Breakthrough Cited In War Against Child Porn

Attorney General Spitzer has secured a guilty plea in a groundbreaking case against an internet service provider (ISP) that knowingly provided its subscribers with access to illegal child pornography. The plea is the latest result of a two-year investigation conducted by the Office of the Attorney General and the New York State Police.

"This case establishes a common sense standard for the Internet," Spitzer said. "When an ISP becomes aware of illegal child pornography available in its system, the ISP cannot put its head in the sand."

"Clearly the failure of the Internet Service Provider to identify and terminate the access to child pornographic sites is gravely unfortunate. Because the Internet knows no geographic boundaries, it is incumbent upon the ISPs, legally and morally, to be ever vigilant in protecting the public from this criminal activity," said State Police Superintendent James W. McMahon. "The State Police is committed to coordinating our investigations with Attorney General Spitzer and other law enforcement agencies across the nation to end the contemptible conduct of such criminal acts."

Buffnet, a large regional ISP based in West Seneca, New York outside of Buffalo, pleaded guilty to the crime of Criminal Facilitation in the Fourth Degree, a Class A misdemeanor. The company admitted that it failed to take action when it was notified by a customer as well as by law enforcement that one of the newsgroups it carried was being used to distribute graphic child pornography.

Beginning in 1998, the Attorney General's Office and the State Police began an investigation of a group that called itself "Pedo University," whose members used the newsgroup to possess and exchange child pornography. After a series of successful prosecutions that helped to dismantle "Pedo U," the investigation turned its focus from the users of the newsgroup to the ISPs that provided access to the newsgroup. One of these was Buffnet. When Buffnet was made aware of the content of the newsgroup, it took no action.

"When BuffNet, or any ISP, is informed of this kind of heinous criminal activity, it has a duty to act. Here, Buffnet chose to look the other way," Spitzer said. "This response is not defensible by any standard of law or conscience."

Until now, prosecutions in this area focused primarily on individuals who subscribed to an ISP like BuffNET, and who logged on to a newsgroup and downloaded and traded in child pornography. The Attorney General's investigation widened its focus to include the ISP that knowingly provided the means and the opportunity for this criminal conduct to occur.

Spitzer said that this plea in no way touches on the rights of artistic and first amendment expression, whether communicated over the internet or by any other means. Spitzer emphasized, "this case involved graphic images of young children engaged in sexual conduct with adults. These images went far beyond the pale of protected expression."

BuffNet pled guilty in State Supreme Court before the Honorable Vincent E. Doyle. Sentencing was adjourned to February 22, 2001.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Paul McCarthy of the Attorney General's Criminal Prosecutions Bureau assisted by Investigators James Domres and Michael McCartney, Internet specialists of the Attorney General's Investigations Bureau, and by New York State Police Investigator Joseph Thornton of the Buffalo Special Investigations Unit.


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