White House attacks P-to-P porn

Members of a U.S. House subcommittee questioned why so much pornography, including some child pornography, exists on peer-to-peer (P-to-P) services, but p-to-p software vendors said the problem is small compared to pornography elsewhere in cyberspace.

Saying that P-to-P services distribute a minority of the pornography on the Web isn't a good excuse, said Penny Nance, president of the Kids First Coalition. "This doesn't absolve them of the responsibility," she told the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Images available through P-to-P services include bondage, bestiality and child sexual abuse, not just soft-core pornography, Nance said. "It's vile and it's hurtful; it's not loving and sexy," she said.

Subcommittee member Joseph Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican, and Representative Chris John, a Louisiana Democrat, are pushing the Protecting Children from Peer-to-Peer Pornography Act, which would require P-to-P vendors to give notice of threats posed by their software, distribute their software to minors only with parental consent and ensure that the software can be easily uninstalled. The legislation, introduced in July 2003, would also direct the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to develop uninstall measures if P-to-P vendors do not do so.

Child predators use P-to-P networks to distribute pornography to children and to lure children to engage in sex with them, Pitts said. Pornography available through P-to-P services is often disguised under search terms children might use, such as Snow White or Pokemon, he said.

"If your product facilitates or encourages illegal activity, if your product allows predators, pornographers and pedophiles to prey on children, and if your products lead to the abuse of just one child while you stand idly by, you have no excuse," Pitts said.

A representative of the Distributed Computing Industry Association (DCIA), a trade association founded by Kazaa distributor Sharman Networks Ltd., said the group cannot support the bill in its current form because it singles out P-to-P software without addressing other Internet technologies where pornography is more readily available, including Web sites and chat rooms.

"We think the way to go is to continue to develop stronger and stronger family filters," said Martin Lafferty, chief executive officer of the DCIA.

Lawmakers and some witnesses questioned whether the filters distributed by P-to-P vendors actually work. With keywords disguised to look like products aimed at children, pornography files on P-to-P networks easily get around keyword filters, Nance said.

Keyword filters are a "blunt instrument" that doesn't always work, Lafferty said. But Kazaa also allows parents to block all video and image files from being downloaded onto their computers, he added.

Lawmakers pointed to a February 2003 report, prepared by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), saying that it found hundreds of child pornography images through the Kazaa P-to-P service. But Adam Eisgrau, executive director of P-to-P trade group P2P United, noted that only about 1 percent of the tips on child pornography received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children since 1998 involved P-to-P technology. In contrast, 77 percent of the center's reports of child pornography were about Web sites, said Eisgrau, referring to numbers in the GAO report. "Let's put this in context," he said.

But lawmakers said P-to-P networks need to do more to keep pornography out of the hands of children and teens regularly using the software. "This (pornography) is what our high schools students are seeing on a daily basis," said Representative Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican.

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