DoJ regulating digital cams to fight child porn

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Washington, 1 April 2001-- The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly hoping to thwart the burgeoning Internet kiddie-porn industry by regulating digital cameras, the tool of choice for child pornographers. A bill to be introduced next month says that digital cameras sold after April 1, 2001 must recognize and prohibit "child pornography" or "obscenity" from being recorded.

Citing the explosive growth in child pornography and obscenity, the U.S. Department of Justice aims to rein in the fast-growing digital camera industry.

A DOJ project code-named "Indecent Images" plans to implant technologies developed to automatically recognize hard-core Internet sex images into the next generation of cameras. An II-compliant camera will refuse to take illegal photographs or videos, and could even quietly tip off law enforcement to illicit behavior.

On Friday, a DOJ spokeswoman confirmed the existence of the II project, and said that the remarkable number of child pornographers now using digital cameras on the Internet underground represents a new challenge to law enforcement that Congress should carefully consider.

The spokeswoman declined to provide details, but one DOJ source said the Office of Legislative Affairs has drafted legislation and plans to send it to Capitol Hill next month. The Senate has previously voted to condemn the menace of children and sex.

"One we'd prosecute child pornographers who take rolls of film to the corner fot-o-mat for developing," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But now when everything's digital, we can no longer protect America's children. We need a new First Amendment for the digital age."

Child pornography appears to be a popular Internet hobby. An Altavista search returns 25,999 pages found that "match your search criteria." A Google search turns up far more child pornography: 425,000 hits.

A spokesman for President Bush said the White House supports the II plan, which is consistent with the 2000 Republican Party platform that urged strenuous activity involving "obscenity and child pornography." Bush said last year that: "It's important for us to explain to our nation that life is important. It's not only life of babies, but it's life of children living in, you know, the dark dungeons of the Internet."

Critics said the II draft bill raises free speech concerns.

An ACLU spokeswoman said that the II proposal would unreasonably restrict legitimate art and photography, and that the technology to recognize images as child pornography or obscenity is far from perfect. The ACLU and the American Library Association filed suit earlier this month to overturn the Children's Internet Protection Act, which encourages libraries to use filtering software -- some of which uses II-type technology.

The bill would likely be sponsored in the Senate by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Judiciary chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and in the House by Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). Hatch and Feinstein co-sponsored the 1996 "morphed" child porn law that is currently the subject of a legal challenge, and an aide said Feinstein viewed this as a logical extension of using technology to thwart inappropriate views and behavior.

The DOJ proposal requires the Federal Communications Commission -- which already regulates "indecent" broadcasts -- to police the digital photo and video industry as well. Any manufacturer seeking a license to sell such products in the U.S. after April 1, 2002 would have to demonstrate that they were II-compatible to receive FCC approval under agency rule 602P.

Nikon and Canon, which sell digital cameras, could not immediately be reached for comment. Kodak faxed a statement to reporters over the weekend that said: "We never have approved of the use of our products to record intercourse, missionary position or otherwise, with children, and we look forward to working with law enforcement to meet their concerns."

The II technology plan, according to an outline provided by the DOJ source, has two phases: II.1, which scans images using advanced neural networks to recognize and delete illicit material.

II.2, which would not be mandated until April 1, 2003, is far more high-tech. Some observers believe it will spur development of this kind of advanced artificial intelligence, giving U.S. tech firms a badly-needed boost given the recent stock market downturn.

The II draft says that "any variant" of digital still or video camera must include a GPS device and a transmitter that is compatible with U.S. pager networks. When a child pornographer takes an illegal photo, the camera recognizes it and transmits an encrypted message containing the image, the date, and the location to the local police -- who would then raid the home and save the child from continued erotic exploitation.

The Family Research Council, which estimates it has been involved in helping police make 83.5 percent of arrests related to child pornography, applauded the II approach. "It's about time Congress did something hard-core on this issue," said FRC spokesman and author Martin Rimm. "The Internet should be more than a place where children can have sex with dogs."

The DOJ wants to encourage photo-video manufacturers to license technology from companies such as Exotrope, a firm in New York state that sells porn-recognition software. New York Governor George Pataki has applauded Exotrope's "state-of-the-art technology and PC Magazine gave it an "editor's choice" award.

The FRC's Rimm, who conducted a highly-publicized Carnegie Mellon University study into how pornography is marketed on the information superhighway -- an updated version will soon be published in Georgetown University's law review -- says he hopes Congress will act swiftly.

"My research shows 'paraphilic pornography' is on the rise," he said. "Our research team has undertaken the first comprehensive study of child pornography on the information superhighway, and let me tell you: Perversion has gone digital, and we need to penetrate this problem now."

Compiled from staff and wire reports.

© 2001 An Investigative Reporter in Washington, all rights reserved.

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