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New York pressures more ISPs into child pornography crackdown

Usenet vivisected by AT&T, AOL

Bowing to continued pressure from the New York Attorney General, two more big-name American ISPs have shut down access to dozens of Usenet newsgroups that contain child pornography - and many more that don't.

Yesterday, New York AG Andrew Cuomo announced that AT&T and AOL had agreed to eliminate access to 88 newsgroups where state investigations have turned up nearly 11,000 "sexually lewd photos featuring prepubescent children". In some cases, the AG's office said, these are photos of "children being raped and sexual activity involving animals".

This follows similar promises from Time Warner Cable, Sprint, and Verizon. All five of these mega-ISPs have also agreed to rid their web servers of child pornography, as identified by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

And some have gone even further. Like Time Warner, AT&T and AOL decided to extend its Usenet crackdowns well beyond the 88 groups flagged by the AG.

AT&T will eliminate direct access to all binary newsgroups - i.e. all groups that serve up full-blown data files. "We’ll no longer include alt.binary newsgroups [as part of its broadband package] because of the prevalence of child pornography in that particular newsgroup hierarchy and the difficulty in ensuring that no child porn reappears in those newsgroups," AT&T spokesman Marty Richter told us.

Richter points out, however, that AT&T customers will still have access to binary newsgroups through third-party providers unaffiliated with AT&T.

Meanwhile, AOL tells the The Associated Press it will block access to every newsgroup there is. We asked for confirmation, but the company has yet to respond. It should be noted, however, that the company hasn't offered official access to newsgroups since 2005.

Yes, US lawmakers and ISPs must work to eliminate online child pornography. According to the Internet Watch Foundation, an organization that fights the good fight in the UK, nearly 80 per cent of the world's commercial child pornography is hosted on US servers.

But blocking access to large swathes of Usenet is hardly the right way to go. The pornography will only turn up elsewhere. And these ISPs - strong-armed by the New York AG - are bagging tens of thousands of newsgroups that contain nothing but perfectly legal content. [Battling Usenet? Wot? Is this 1989? - Ed]

Last month, Time Warner, Sprint, and Verizon contributed a good $1.1m to the AG's office for ongoing child pornography investigations. But it seems AT&T and AOL have gotten off the hook without a cash payment. ®

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