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Comcast plays New York anti-porn game

Bad news for Usenet

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After a legal threat from New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo, Comcast has joined the grandstanding American politician's quixotic crusade against online child pornography.

In signing Cuomo's anti-child porn "code of conduct," the country's second largest ISP has agreed to shutdown certain Usenet newsgroups containing "sexually lewd photos featuring prepubescent children" and rid such images from its web servers.

Five other big-name American ISPs have already signed the pact - AOL, AT&T, Time Warner, Sprint, and Verizon - and yesterday, in announcing Comcast's capitulation, the New York AG also trumpeted the signing of cut-rate ISP NetZero.

"Today's agreements with Comcast and NetZero will deliver another blow to the despicable online child porn industry," Cuomo said. "I commend the companies for working with my office to aggressively eradicate online child pornography and strongly urge all outstanding Internet service providers across New York and the nation to get on board."

Of course, the Cuomo crusade is little more than a publicity stunt - and an excuse for ISPs like AT&T, Time Warner, and Verizon to block access to much larger swaths of the Usenet.

Comcast has already agreed to eliminate child-porn from its servers through a pact with the National Association of Attorneys General (which includes Cuomo) and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). So there's little change on the web side.

"We are committed to working with attorney general Cuomo - and his attorney general colleagues - on the pressing issue of child pornography on the internet," reads a canned statement from Comcast executive vp David L. Cohen. "Signing this agreement in addition to the already announced steps Comcast is taking with nearly the entire cable industry, 48 state attorneys general, and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, will enable us to step up the fight against child pornography."

The question is what the cable ISP will do with Usenet, which it serves up through Giganews, a third-party outfit. Will it simply block access the 88 porn-ridden newsgroups Cuomo has identified, squash all binary groups like AT&T, or ban Usenet entirely à la Time Warner? Comcast has yet to say. ®

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