The Halifax Herald
Wednesday, January 8 1997

Internet rife with pornography

Access easy, policing next to impossible

by Paul Schneidereit

It's no secret: Child pornography is available and easily accessible on the Internet.

Anyone with a home computer and modem can easily obtain sexually explicit photos from the worldwide computer network.

The anonymity and easy accessibility of kiddie porn on the Net are a seductive lure, says Sgt. Bill Cowper, Internet communications officer for Halifax regional police.

"If someone's got a very perverse need or fantasy, locally, they might never discover another person who has that same perversion", he said Tuesday.

"But on the Internet, they could literally find hundreds, if not thousands, of people who share those perversions."

Illegal pornographic images can be posted in one of thousands of so-called newsgroups, the Net's equivalent of discussion forums. Or, said Sgt. Cowper, they can be transmitted from person to person through encrypted (encoded) email.

Net service providers can't reasonably be expected to keep track of the content in these newsgroups, said Sgt. Cowper.

"If you've got 17,000 newsgroups, all of them being refreshed every three days, thousands of articles going through on each one of those newsgroups, how do you police that?"

John van Gurp, who chairs the policy and information committee of Chebucto Freenet, Mr. Friedman's Internet provider, agrees. He says it's impossible to patrol the "tiny ... radical little corner of the Internet."

"It's almost impossible ... without damaging the rights and freedoms of others", Mr. van Gurp said Tuesday.

He said rifling through someone's e-mail would be akin to opening the letters in their mailbox. He said Chebucto Freenet makes prospective account holders - the service has around 12,000 - sign an agreement saying they won't indulge in such criminal activity via the Net.

"Unfortunately, we had one person who seemed to be a little warped."

Mr. van Gurp said the service just wants to support the community through exchange of information and hopes the public understands the difficulty with patrolling the vast technological realm.

Chebucto Freenet works closely with Sgt. Cowper, alerting officers to anything unusual or illegal that's out there, he said.

The Net is like anything else, with both good and bad, said the sergeant. The Criminal Code makes possession of child pornography a crime, regardless of the source.

Police everywhere say the loosely structured nature of cyberspace makes it difficult to track down people distributing and storing illegal images.

"It's covert. It's behind the scenes", said Sgt. Cowper.

The key is education, both for police who need to develop better skills in dealing with cyberspace crime and for the public in understanding the potential dangers on line.

Despite obstacles, authorities have achieved some successes:

(With files from Eva Hoare)

(Malcolm Dunlop / Herald Photo)
Police on Tuesday displayed evidence collected against Stuart Friedman, some of it downloaded from the Net.

Copyright © 1997 by the Halifax Herald Limited. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.