September 28th, 2006 15:51 EST
More Global Effort Needed To Fight Sex Crimes Against Children
Washington -- Laws on child pornography vary widely among countries -- in dozens of nations, it is not illegal -- and managers of pornographic Web sites can dodge investigators by hosting their pages on overseas servers, according to U.S. law enforcement officials.
Tracking child pornography peddlers around the globe requires better international cooperation, agreed U.S. investigators and leaders of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at a September 27 hearing before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission.
“There is a staggering lack of capacity around the world to investigate and prosecute these types of crimes,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National and International Centers for Missing and Exploited Children, two NGOs that advise lawmakers on policies to fight child pornography and trafficking.
Probes of child pornography Web sites “almost always span multiple jurisdictions and usually extend beyond the borders of the United States,” said James E. Finch, assistant director of the Cyber Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“They park their Web sites at different servers around the world, so when one server is discovered they move to another,” he said. These sites cost only $30 to $100 to set up.
The roadblocks to many types of international investigations -- lack of resources to deal with language barriers and cumbersome bureaucracy -- are especially damaging to child pornography investigations, where speed is crucial, Finch said.
To help solve the problem, the FBI has assembled an international task force, with officials from Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement organization, and 18 countries serving six-month rotations in the United States to assist American investigators.
Differences among countries in the way their laws treat child pornography and trafficking also pose problems for investigators. Representative Christopher Smith, Republican from New Jersey and co-chair of the Helsinki Commission, said he has seen resistance in Europe to adopting legislation similar to Megan’s Law in the United States because of concerns for privacy.
Megan’s Law allows the government to make information about convicted sex offenders public, including their home addresses. The law was named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old raped and murdered in 1994 by a sex offender who lived across the street from her home in New Jersey.
A report by the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children released in 2006 finds that 95 countries have no legislation at all that specifically addresses child pornography.
The center also evaluated which countries have national legislation that: provides a definition of child pornography; criminalizes computer-facilitated offenses; criminalizes possession of child pornography, regardless of the intent to distribute; and requires Internet service providers (ISPs) to report suspected child pornography to authorities.
Only five countries meet all five criteria: Australia, Belgium, France, South Africa and the United States. The center found that only 22 countries meet all but the last criterion, pertaining to ISP reporting.
An effort to fight child exploitation must include not only the appropriate legal infrastructure in every country, but also the help of multinational corporations such as Internet and software giants Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, Allen said.
He has met with these and other technology companies to discuss enlisting their help in fighting Internet-based child sex crimes. They have been generally receptive, Allen said, and relationships with these companies show potential.
“I haven’t hit any brick walls, and my colleagues haven’t either,” he said. “This is a despicable issue and no one wants to be on the wrong side of it.”
The Helsinki Commission is an independent agency of the U.S. government mandated to monitor and encourage compliance by participating states with the Helsinki Final Act and other commitments of the 56 countries that constitute the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Helsinki Final Act, which was signed by 35 countries at the Helsinki Summit in 1975, codifies Western concepts of human rights. (See related article.)
More information can be found at the Helsinki Commission Web site.
The full text (PDF, 35 pages) of the report on child sexual exploitation laws around the world is available in English, French, Arabic, Spanish and Russian on the Web site of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Additional information on the FBI’s program to fight online child pornography is available on the bureau’s Web site. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement also offers information on its Cyber Crime Center Web page.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By Mary Specht
Washington File Staff Writer