(This column was published in the North Shore News on Feb. 13, 2002)

 

Police try to figure who's who at the zoo

By Leo Knight

DO you Yahoo?

 

An innocuous sort of marketing question most of us have seen in some form of electronic media. Yahoo has become a major player in the Internet world for many surfers. They attract advertising from some of the biggest companies in the world such as Chevron and Continental Airlines.

 

They host e-mail for millions of customers worldwide and are plugged into news wire services across the media spectrum. They are a big e-deal.

 

What happens when you are a company like Chevron and you find out that advertising you had paid for and allocated to Yahoo turns up on child pornography sites? An unfortunate accident? Hardly.

 

Yahoo has a free Web-hosting service called Geocities. Within that community are many adult sites along with the ubiquitous spotty faced teenagers telling the world about their expertise at the latest electronic games. Among the adult sites are the CP or child pornography sites with fetching names.

 

You see, the way it works is that your kid, for example, wants to put up a Web site outlining his musical lyrics or whatever. He then obtains a free site from a Yahoo sponsored Web community like Geocities. But because the service is free to your kid, advertisers to Yahoo have their banners put up on all the sites in the cyber community.

 

For the most part this is all innocuous enough. But when a pedophile decides to use the free service for his own sick and twisted purposes, then companies such as Chevron are caught in an unwilling trap.

 

To be fair to Yahoo, they will act swiftly to remove offending sites once they are notified. On the other side of that coin, they don't appear to screen or vet the Geocities Web sites on any sort of regular basis. But then, neither do most Web site hosting services.

 

I use this as an example to illustrate just how wide open the Internet has become.

 

Much of this problem is created by two essential elements. One, there is a ton of money to be made in the world of cyber porn. Two, the margins are very thin for Internet service providers (ISP) so there is little motivation for them to review exactly who is using their services and for what.

 

As I write these words, the B.C. Supreme Court is considering the seemingly endless case against John Robin Sharpe. Sharpe is trying to hide behind the "artistic" provision of the child porn laws. Essentially that says if it (the offending subject material) is within the realm of art, then it is outside the realm of pornography.

 

An interesting question: is the crap generated from the warped mind of Sharpe "art" by definition or filth as it would appear to the artistically uninitiated?

 

The Internet is a warp speed vehicle for men like Sharpe whose writings and such were seized by police in 1996 when the Internet was just gaining its general popularity. In that year a 28.8k modem was state of the art.

 

The case against Sharpe is based primarily on his writings he shared with other believers in "inter-generational love." Writings he shared in books he gave away, not widely available online for someone who could plug a string of words into a search engine.

 

Which brings me back to the way pedophiles have embraced the Internet. And the problem.

 

The Internet has grown in leaps and bounds by any measuring stick. The rules for the businesses who didn't fail in the "dot bomb" collapse are virtually non-existent. And, I include such organizations as Telus and AT&T in this.

 

When police are investigating child pornography or predatory pedophiles, they meet all manner of obstacles in trying to determine who's who in the zoo, so to speak.

 

To simplify, when I send you an e-mail, the header contains all kinds of information, most importantly, my ISP address.

 

This is a set of numbers, which essentially identifies the origin of the path the e-mail took to get to your computer. And so it is with Internet surfing.

 

The problem comes when the police are trying to identify who it is exactly who is the specific subscriber originating the e-mail. Then the ISP hides behind privacy and forces the police to get a search warrant.

 

Well, as anyone who has ever been involved in the process of getting a search warrant will tell you, it's not easy. Add to that the problem of ISPs being spread literally all over the globe.

 

Here's where the government needs to move in and actually do something to protect children. I know that is such a novel idea, but anything is possible.

 

The subscriber information should accompany the ISP address in much the same manner as your name accompanies your phone number on call displays.

 

Sure, there are methods to make yourself anonymous on the Net, but it seems to me that anyone interested in protecting kids, and that is most of us, should not object to making it a criminal act to use technology in that way.

 

Now I'm not one to encourage more government involvement. It seems to me that some fairly simple legislation is needed here. We are talking about protecting children.

 

And if we, as a nation, decline to do everything possible to protect our kids, what does that say about us?

 

-30-

 

 

 

Primetimecrime current headlines               Columns 2002