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The Sunday Times has obtained Operation Ore's entire list of UK subscribers to child porn sites. Containing 7,272 names, the list includes 'at least 20 senior executives' and a 'senior teacher at an exclusive girl's public school, services personnel from at least five military bases, GPs, university academics and civil servants."

There's more: a "famous newspaper columnist is named, along with a song writer for a legendary pop band and a member of another chart-topping 1980s cult pop group, along with an official with the Church of England."

The 1000-page list contains names, addresses and credit card details of UK subscribers to an American child porn aggregator. Members paid £21 a month to Landslide Productions of Texas, for access to 300 child porn sites.

The list was compiled by the US Postal Service, which busted Landslide in 1999. Its sheer size has overwhelmed UK police. To date, only 1,200- 2,000 people have been arrested, depending upon which report you believe. And only 50 people, including Pete Townsend of The Who have been named in public.

Users or Abusers?

In our recent article Watch out! There's a chatroom paedophile about, we asked if reinforcement of deviant sexual fantasies, through exposure to child abuse material, could encourage some to turn their masturbatory fantasies into reality. We think this is a reasonable question: no-one yet knows the answer.

All paedophiles, it seems, have collections of child pornography. But not all, not most, child porn consumers are paedophiles - according to American research cited by child protection campaigners in the UK, up to one third of child porn users are concurrently abusers. We really must get a copy of this research. (In the case of Operation Ore, we did a quick calculation, that this could mean up to 2000 children at risk. Quick and wrong, as this reader demolition job shows.)

According to the UK police, up to a fifth of the Operation List could be child abusers, but then they won't know for sure until they have completed their time-consuming and expensive trawls.

Of course, this estimate may also be an exaggeration. And, of course, child porn users reject the accusations that they are paedophiles. Take, for example, Jim Bell, imprisoned in March 2002, for possession of child pornography and taking video shots of two girls.

Writing last week in The Guardian, he claims that in three years, "I never came across a website that took credit card subscriptions for its own photography that showed explicit sexual activity involving children."

All very plausible, but images accessible through Landslide included some very hard core material indeed on sites such as Child Rape.

Get the Producers

Bell argues that Operation Ore will "succeed in frightening people away from the credit card sites which offered the milder forms of child pornography. It will not affect the undercurrent of hardcore child porn, nor child prostitution, nor the appalling, frightening ways in which adults hurt children. It will replace informed understanding with mass hysteria, will claim some victims, and do little good. That is always the way with witch hunts."

We think that frightening punters away from "the milder forms of child pornography" is a Good Thing. According to US Customs service estimates, there are more than 100,000 child porn sites worldwide, generating revenues of $200m. Anything that chokes off their cash is to be welcomed.

But Bell is surely right in his point that Operation Ore will have no effect upon the amount of child porn in circulation on the Internet.

So rather than chasing low-level consumers, shouldn't we instead go after the porn producers instead, Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University and author of Beyond Tolerance: child pornography on the internet, asks.

Writing in The Guardian, Jenkins argues: "You can only suppress the child porn trade by focusing on people, and above all, on the highly skilled technical experts who run the boards and the websites, rather than the casual users. That kind of laborious work doesn't generate as many headlines as taking out a rock star or MP, but it may be the only way of putting this particularly loathsome genie back into its bottle."

Yes, yes, but is safe, or right, to assume that child porn subscribers are "casual users"? Soon the police may have little choice. Already, there are some mutterings that Operation Ore is putting children at risk, because of the diversion of the resources of child protection units into the case. Also there is another US-compiled list of UK child porn subscribers winging its way here, this one 10,000 strong. And there could be many, many more.

A senior Scotland Yard source quoted in today's Daily Mirror: "The forecast is that the Visa list may top 100,000 alone. Together with Mastercard and American Express customers, plus the other major credit card providers, the projection is the total number of British men who have been accessing these sites will exceed 250,000."

If this figure is in any way accurate, there will be a massive bottleneck in the judicial system for years to come, additional government funds or no. ®

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