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Peer-to-peer network may link to porn

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Sen. Orrin Hatch

Sen. Orrin Hatch

WASHINGTON — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has a new warning for parents: Peer-to-peer networks, or P2P, that youth use to share files via the Internet — including music — may also bring unexpected child pornography.

He said they present a "great risk of inadvertent exposure to these materials by young P2P users" because sometimes files labeled as containing something innocuous actually have pornography — or contain embedded commands that will later unexpectedly link computers to pornography sites.

In response, Peer-to-Peer United, a new trade association for the Internet file-sharing industry, said it is forming a "Parent-to-Parent Resource Center" to teach parents how to protect children. It also called for Congress not to attack P2P networks, but the criminals that misuse them.

"Like all right-thinking people, our members are sickened by child pornography and regard misuse of the Internet for its dissemination as reprehensible," said Adam Eisgrau, director of that association. "The answer is not to restrict the technology, because technology isn't the perpetrator — criminals are."

In research requested by Hatch's committee, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported Tuesday that it tried searching for files to download on the Internet using the KaZaA program and 12 words it had been told might lead to child pornography.

"Of the 1,286 items identified in our search, about 42 percent were associated with child pornography images. The remaining items included 34 percent classified as adult pornography and 24 percent as non-pornographic," testified Linda D. Koontz, GAO director of information management issues.

The GAO report added, "Searches on innocuous keywords likely to be used by juveniles (such as the names of cartoon characters or celebrities) produced a high proportion of pornographic images; in our searches, the retrieved images included adult pornography (34 percent), cartoon pornography (14 percent), child erotica (7 percent) and child pornography (1 percent)."

Doug Jacobson, an Iowa State University professor who heads an Internet filtering company called Palisade Systems, said, "You don't have to look for pornography on peer-to-peer networks; it will find you. There are no effective controls regarding content provided on a peer-to-peer network, the only information you are given is a file name."

Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General John Malcolm said the Justice Department has established a High Tech Investment Unit to go after child pornography on the Internet, including "in the relatively new area of P2P technology."

Pornography is just one of several problems with P2P technology Hatch's committee has been examining as it weighs how and whether to regulate it. Other problems have included embedded "Trojan horse" commands in some files that have led some people to inadvertently give others access to their tax returns, medical files, e-mail and other data.

The longest-standing controversy has been allowing people to illegally share and download copyrighted music.

Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, complained at the hearing Tuesday that such downloads are devastating his industry.

"Over the past three years, shipments of recorded music in the U.S. have fallen by an astounding 31 percent," he said. "Hit records have been impacted most dramatically. In 2000, the 10 top-selling albums in the United States sold a total of 60 million units. In 2001, that number dropped to 40 million. Last year, it totaled just 34 million."

David Hess, associate academic vice president of the University of Utah for information technology, testified that P2P problems ranging from pornography to illegal music copying to spreading worms and viruses means, "The time may be approaching when the total risk of operating a P2P software sharing client on a network outweighs even the needs for legitimate use of this technology."


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