U.S. warns parents to be on the lookout for child pornography on computers

September 01, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Federal obscenity hunters, who believed they had made strides in curbing the distribution of child pornography through the mail and other traditional methods, said yesterday that they are now combating a new version of the problem: lewd material generated and distributed by computer from Denmark and elsewhere.

"We're right back, unfortunately, where we started," said J. Robert Flores, senior trial attorney in the Justice Department's child exploitation and obscenity section. "Much of the material is again surfacing in computers."

So far, federal prosecutors have filed child pornography charges against six people and as many as nine more cases may be brought this month, said George Burgasser, acting chief of the ++ section.

The charges are based largely on information obtained by U.S. Customs Service agents during 31 searches in 15 states and 30 cities in March.

The current effort began with a May 1992 search of a Danish citizen's home by Danish police that resulted in the seizure of a computer system, records and hundreds of pornographic photographs of children.

L The search was conducted at the request of U.S. authorities.

In that case, authorities say, individuals throughout the world were able to participate in a child pornography electronic bulletin board known as Bamse.

By paying a fee, participants could receive "child and deviant hard-core pornography" in the form of graphic images, text and computer games that could be downloaded into personal computers, authorities said.

In a second raid in October, Danish police searched the home of an operator of another child pornography bulletin board dubbed Screwdriver.

Customs agents estimated that 45 Americans were importing child pornography through the two systems.

That conclusion led to the March raids, dubbed "Operation Long Arm" and characterized by Mr. Burgasser as "the largest anti-child pornography operation in U.S. history."

Mr. Burgasser described the computer distribution of pornography as "more invidious" than that distributed through traditional means because it enables "pedophiles to reach into the homes of at-risk children" through computers and lure them into lewd activities.

While no federal charges have been filed against anyone attempting to gain access to youngsters, some state cases have been brought, department officials said without elaborating.

Mr. Burgasser and his colleagues said they decided to call attention to the drive against computerized porn, in part to alert parents to the threat at a time when computer use by children is being encouraged.

The Justice Department also hoped to "serve notice that it will not allow trade" in child pornography, "regardless of whether it is by conventional or high-tech methods," he said.

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