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New York threatens Comcast with anti-porn suit

'Back my empty rhetoric - or else'

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New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has threatened Comcast with legal action if it doesn't fall in line with his quixotic campaign against online child pornography. And the American ISP is set to do exactly what he wants.

Over the past several weeks, Cuomo strong-armed five stateside ISPs into signing his very own anti-child-porn "code of conduct." AOL, AT&T, Time Warner, Sprint, and Verizon all agreed to choke certain porn-infested Usenet newsgroups and remove known porn sites from their web servers.

With this ongoing campaign, Cuomo has brought himself reams of publicity. But in the long run, his grandstanding has likely buried more legitimate free speech than child pornography. The likes of AT&T and Time Warner used their Cuomo agreements as an excuse to vaporize large swaths of Usenet where New York hasn't found "sexually lewd photos featuring prepubescent children." And though the AG has successfully choked access to roughly 88 newsgroups that do contain child porn, you can bet the pornographers will simply move elsewhere.

But Comcast hasn't signed Cuomo's code of conduct. And yesterday, as reported by The Associated Press, the New York AG fired a letter to Comcast general counsel Douglas Gaston threatening legal action within five days if he didn't step in line.

"Comcast's unwillingness to sign the code of conduct and purge its system of child pornography puts Comcast at the back of the pack in the race to fight this scourge, and would likely be surprising to Comcast's millions of customers across the country," reads the letter, nabbed by The AP and posted (PDF) to the web by Broadband Reports. "Time is of the essence here, as every day without these measures is another day that this illegal material is sluicing through the Internet."

You know an Attorney General means business when he pulls out a word like sluicing.

And it looks like Cuomo will get the extra publicity he so desperately wants. "We appreciate the hard work by Attorney General Cuomo – and his Attorney General colleagues – on the pressing issue of child pornography on the Internet," Comcast said in a canned statement tossed our way. "Comcast has been working with the New York Attorney General and we expect to become a signatory to his agreement as well."

Company spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice also pointed out that just last week, Comcast signed an anti-child porn agreement with the National Assoication of Attorneys General (which includes Cuomo's office) and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). Under this agreement, the ISP will work with NCMEC to remove access to specific sites known to contain child porn. But in his sluicing letter, Cuomo insisted this agreement falls "well short of the full range of measures set out in our code of conduct."

Cuomo prefers ISPs who behave like AOL. Earlier this month, after signing his code of conduct, AOL agreed to choke all Usenet newsgroups - which it hasn't offered access to since 2003. ®

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