back to article Four jailed for million-pound abuse images ring

Four men have been sentenced today for their parts in running a news group service used for the distribution of child abuse images. The news service, Athenanews.com, earned the four men about £2.2m - police will be applying to the courts to seize that money. Ian Frost, 35, and his civil partner Paul Rowland, 34, of Martin …

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Anonymous Coward

2 million quid

Having railed about inaccurate reporting, kudos to the BBC;

"We found out they had been running a news service for seven years and had been using it to distribute indecent images to 45 countries, earning themselves about £2m"

Accurate reporting at last! "Earning" implies turnover, so no allowance for running costs. £2m over 7 years, so that's about £300K a year or £25K a month. I read on another website they charged about £6 a month to users, so had about 4000 subscribers. Those figures don't make me think that their business was more or less profitable than any other Usenet venture, regardless of whether or not they were actively promoting the availability of illegal groups.

I'd echo someone else's comment though, about use of the word "distribute". The way Usenet works the content is entirely uploaded and downloaded by users. If someone throws drugs in a bin, and someone else collects them, would you sue the council who owns the bin for distributing drugs?

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Flame

Not the same

As previously stated usenet servers can be configured not to carry those groups with names clearly indicating their content is indecent, in fact most do.

Your analogy would be more accurate if someone put drugs in a bin marked 'illegal drugs' and someone else comes along and collects the bin clearly marked illegal drugs.

Google 'Mens Rea' as mentioned above, the council bin operative did not have the guilty knowledge in your example!

It is all about the whether there is a reasonable expectation that a normal person would realise alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.children (and similar) contained indecent images and whether it is reasonable for them to continue serving this group to subscribers.

In fact, looking at the front page for AthenaNews they actually make a point of advertising that they carried ALL newsgroups - "Access all newsgroups uncensored".

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Anonymous Coward

Paul Frost

Bloody hell, I went to school with Paul Frost. IIRC he showed no interest in computers whatsoever.

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Anonymous Coward

Wouldn't it also be an offence to report child pornography

You could report it to the police but then they would have to charge you for posession ?

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Facepalm

Read the legislation/ Caselaw

I can't remember the actual phrase but there is something about 'retained longer than reasonable' that allows for someone to discover IIoC and not be prosecuted if they take reasonable steps once it is identified.

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Unhappy

As crazy as it sounds, (almost) yes

One guy in Hungary reported to the police that he found such a site on the web. The police seized all his equipment for "evidence", and later nailed him for copyright infringement because of the programs he had on his hard drive. We're just one step away, really...

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Anonymous Coward

Let's just see

I run a shop. You know, just an ordinary shop, nothing dodgy here guv.

Some guys come around now and then and drop off boxes of stuff in my back room. I don't bother checking what's on there 'cos it's none of my business. They gave me a sign to put in the shop window. It goes something like "Get your stuff here".

I thought about charging them to store their stuff, but I make shed loads of cash by charging everyone a fiver to enter the shop. You know, trade is really brisk since those boxes arrived back there.

Oh look, a visit from the boys in blue. "Yes officer how can I help?", "No officer, I have no idea what's back there!", "Hey wait a minute, why are you putting the cuffs on me"

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Childcatcher

You get my vote for sanest person commenting here tonight!

An excellent analogy, unfortunately one which may be lost on the other posters.

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FAIL

You don't know...

if that is the sanest comment, then by all means you join the ranks of the Newgroup Epic Fail brigade on this thread.

LOTS of porn (both copyrighted and amateur/legal), music (same), photographs, etc are posted on the newsgroups. Everyone that uses the newsgroups that is not in college knows that it costs money to store that many bits, so most newsgroup users pay for access - and there are some big firms doing it for real money.

Now, although the newsgroups have names, that does not prevent posters from posting darned near anything they want in a newsgroup - there is rarely any moderation of the vast majority. So, a newsgroup named alt.support.stop-smoking can have kiddie porn posted to it. And the paedos know this, and so this stuff crops up in "decent" newsgroups all the time (I've been on usenet for a long time). Often it is mislabeled too, so lonely guys just wanting free, legal porn end up downloading it - and if they are smart erasing it posthaste.

Which shows the problem if you run a hosting service. You can filter out all the newsgroups that are obviously illegal, ones containing "paedo", "torture", "bestiality", etc. in their names. But the non-offensive groups get spammed with it too, and it is often not named as such, and sometimes is is in password protected RARs or ZIPs.

I am not commenting on this specific case, or if these guys were paedos themselves or not. I am just pointing out after many years on usenet that censorship is impossible, even if you try really, really hard. Too much material, some encrypted for private distribution, and much mislabeled and posted in the wrong newsgroup.

What is important in this case is that it does NOT become open season on ISPs and content distributors...because that will effectively cede control of the internet to governments for good. Both good and bad governments...

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Holmes

I was!

I was commenting on this specific case, so I don't see how you generalisations are relevant.

Just because material can be located outside those groups clearly labelled as containing them does not mean you shouldn't bother removing those groups!!!

It is also NOT impossible to screen the majority of indecent images on newsgroups, there are various automated systems created over the years that could do this (using either signatures or some type of image content recognition), most didn't receive commercial success because the ISPs chose not to buy them! Profit first.

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FAIL

Still a fail...

You can comment on this specific case, but frankly the news reports have not been specific enough to actually know which newsgroups they were hosting, so specific conclusions will be flawed at best. That's why I chose not to comment specifically - insufficient public information. If you work for the plod and you have a list, then by all means share it...

And NO, the automated solutions cannot adequately distinguish between a flat chested 18 year old and a 16 year old - hell, it's darned hard for humans. That is why Australia proposed a ban on flat-chested women in general in porn, which was widely derided. Add in the difficulty in actually recognizing things like cartoon porn from Japan, or porn where the face is hidden...etc. It just doesn't work.

Then we get into the volume issue. According to my newsreader, there are 111,000+ newsgroups currently available. Each of these can have hundreds of posts (sometimes more) per day. Now, I know that merely uploading and processing a file on a public picture share service (Flickr or SmugMug) takes several minutes while it processes, per picture. And that is on a server farm dedicated to it. To do automatic recognition would probably take longer (and still likely fail). And then their is the requirement to actually decode video and then look at sampled frames, right? So...let's look at the volumes involved, and it is quite apparent that it would take a HUGE cluster to even hope to match the volume of usenet binary posts. We are talking a several million dollar system, for a business that only made, what, £2MM in seven years?

If you know of such a system that could work, then please post a link, or at least respond with the name.

Kiddie porn is terrible, and the people that do it, purchase it, and distribute it knowingly should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But saying that we want to totally censor all online media because an incredibly small fraction of it might be put to use in illegal ways is like saying we should force all drivers to take blood alcohol tests EVERY time they get behind the wheel, because an appreciable portion of them (larger than paedos on the internet!) have driven drunk.

There used to be such a thing as civil rights in the Western countries. Now, the cries of "terrorist!" and "think of the children!" have decimated them... IMHO.

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Holmes

Barrack Room Lawyers

Why do so many register readers think the internet is exempt from the laws applicable to the non-digital world?

I also question how many of the barrack-room lawyers here have any experience what so ever of a criminal trial and the associated burden of proof? From the comments I would suspect very few!

There also seems to be some misconception that the Police make these cases up for giggles and simply walze into a court room, spout a lot of unsupported fiction and the Judge convicts people. There is a whole system there, one which is stacked in favour of the defence, that includes defence lawyers, a judge, and a Jury.

Actually go and sit in a court on one of these cases, listen to what goes on, see how every little point has to be evidenced in the face of challenges and arguments. It is NOT how many of you seem to think it happens!

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Anonymous Coward

"stacked in favour of the defence?"

I didn't know, so I went looking;

http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/ascii/fpcseo06.txt

And if you don't want to follow the link;

"During 2006, 3,661 suspects were referred to U.S. attorneys for child sex exploitation offenses. Child pornography constituted 69% of referrals, followed by sex abuse (16%) and sex transportation (14%). Almost 6 in 10 child sex crime suspects were prosecuted in 2006, up from 4 in 10 in 1994. Nine of 10 defendants were convicted and sentenced to prison, up from 8 in 10 in 1994. The median prison sentence imposed increased from 36 months to 63 months over this period. Most suspects charged with sex exploitation were white, male, U.S. citizens, and had attended some college."

Admittedly this is the US, but their legal system is similar to ours. (If anyone can provide similar statistics foe the UK, that would be great). If the system is "stacked in favour of the defence"...how come nine out of ten defendants are convicted?

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Anonymous Coward

Not relevant

As you said, it's the US, and no their legal system is not the similar to ours. Yes they have juries but their entire legislation is completely different from 'just cause' onwards!

Also you are confusing 'stacked in the favour of the defence' with 'most of them get off'. All I meant was that the prosecution have to work harder to prove a point than the defence do to undermine it or get it struck out.

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Anonymous Coward

Eh?

This one I have to admit I don't understand. The prosecution have to work harder than the defence, but still 9 out of ten time the prosecution win? Does that mean that the defence are just not bothering at all?

Sorry but "stacked in favour of the defence" SHOULD lead to a situation where a majority of them "get off". The figures don't show that, so the hypothesis doesn't work.

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Anonymous Coward

Prevention is better than cure.

"(1)It is an offence for a person—

(a)to take, or permit to be taken [or to make], any indecent photograph [F1or pseudo-photograph]of a child F2. . ."

It's the loose interpretation that gives me the problem. Did you know that "to make" includes saving a file on your hard disk? Most of the general public don't realise the difference and assume that to make means you took real live pictures of real live children (more sensationalism). Since most browsers store pictures in a cache, and since you are the user logged in at the time, it's also often interpreted that simply by viewing an abusive image (even accidentally), you are guilty of "making" the image on your hard drive as well.

Since you're knowledgeable about the law...(and I'm not being sarcastic when I say that) does the law on distribution of drugs ALSO state that distribution occurs if someone "exposes it...for acquisition by another person"?

My point is that the language used is re-interpreted more so than for other offences, which again leads to more sensationalism. Mr REAL point is that this is counterproductive. If the goal is to prevent this type of behaviour, then demonising those who carry it out does not help. We want people who behave this way to realise they have a problem and come forward to get help. Threatening them with violent death does not encourage that. Selective reporting that exaggerates the nature of the offence and portrays the perpetrators as "evil" rather than "sick" does not encourage that.

There is nothing that I know of that can prevent pedophiles being born (and maybe they are not born, but formed by their childhood experiences, but either way it is beyond our ability to control) so the best thing we can do is to PREVENT them offending. Every time someone says they want to kill a pedophile, it is punishment not prevention. It does NOTHING to prevent the sexual behaviour of others (hundreds of years of society punishing homosexuals should at least teach us that).

So, if you're happy to have "kill all pedos" as your single response to this, here's the equation. For every pedophile you kill, at least one child has to be abused. Currently, that's the only way you find out that they are pedophiles, because they have ALREADY done something. Are you happy with that?

Anyways...

To follow through my "bin" analogy. However you said the council operative took the bin away...I was talking about a third party. Yes in this case it has been proved to a jury of peers that the bin was clearly labelled "drugs", that the council were aware it was labelled "drugs" and did not act to take the bin away or otherwise prevent the bin from being used for drugs.

However, there are lots of bins. Not all of them are labelled drugs, but still some get used for them. What are the council supposed to do? Stop providing bins altogether?

And lastly I have seen MANY Usenet services making the claim that they carry ALL groups. it doesn't mean they do, and people are very unlikely to complain that groups like alt.sex.pedophilia.pictures turn out not to be present when they sign up.

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Holmes

Thanks for the lesson

"It's the loose interpretation that gives me the problem. Did you know that "to make" includes saving a file on your hard disk?"

Yes I did thanks, and that is making. You are not receiving the original copy, that remains where it is and a second copy is MADE on your hard disk drive. See how that works? If you create a new thing it's called 'making something'.

"Since most browsers store pictures in a cache, and since you are the user logged in at the time, it's also often interpreted that simply by viewing an abusive image (even accidentally), you are guilty of "making" the image on your hard drive as well."

Nope. This is possession, not making unless it can be proven that the person had sufficient technical knowledge that they would reasonably be expected to know that the computer was making copies as they viewed or it was proven that they had directly accessed the cache.

"Since you're knowledgeable about the law...(and I'm not being sarcastic when I say that) does the law on distribution of drugs ALSO state that distribution occurs if someone "exposes it...for acquisition by another person"?"

No idea, don't do many drugs cases. But here is the relevant passage for you. Doesn't use those exact words but it's the same gist:

____________________________________________________________________

A Prohibition of supply etc. of articles for administering or preparing controlled drugs.

(1)A person who supplies or offers to supply any article which may be used or adapted to be used (whether by itself or in combination with another article or other articles) in the administration by any person of a controlled drug to himself or another, believing that the article (or the article as adapted) is to be so used in circumstances where the administration is unlawful, is guilty of an offence.

(2)It is not an offence under subsection (1) above to supply or offer to supply a hypodermic syringe, or any part of one.

(3)A person who supplies or offers to supply any article which may be used to prepare a controlled drug for administration by any person to himself or another believing that the article is to be so used in circumstances where the administration is unlawful is guilty of an offence.

(4)For the purposes of this section, any administration of a controlled drug is unlawful except—

(a)the administration by any person of a controlled drug to another in circumstances where the administration of the drug is not unlawful under section 4(1) of this Act, or

(b)the administration by any person of a controlled drug to himself in circumstances where having the controlled drug in his possession is not unlawful under section 5(1) of this Act.

(5)In this section, references to administration by any person of a controlled drug to himself include a reference to his administering it to himself with the assistance of another]

_______________________________________________________________________

"So, if you're happy to have "kill all pedos" as your single response to this, here's the equation. For every pedophile you kill, at least one child has to be abused. Currently, that's the only way you find out that they are pedophiles, because they have ALREADY done something. Are you happy with that?"

Whoah there!!!!!! At which point did I say kill all paedos? (note the spelling)? All my responses have been lengthy, reasoned and supported with sections of legislation. I know you are desperate to prove your point, but please let's not descend into this sort of thing!

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Anonymous Coward

Not made up, just selectively reported...

"There also seems to be some misconception that the Police make these cases up for giggles and simply walze into a court room, spout a lot of unsupported fiction and the Judge convicts people."

Not exactly. However, the selective reporting thing does again make the "bust" out to be far grander than it is.

These guys didn't "make" pictures in the sense as understood by the general public (i.e. they did not take picture or videos of real live children being abused). However by the letter of the law, they "made" images.

So no, I don't think the police "waltz into court", but the people they have arrested here are in my opinion third degree offenders. First degree offenders would be people who actually record the abuse. Second degree offenders are those that actively seek out images of abuse.

And why? I'm sorry to say, but it's because it's easy and makes good headlines (especially when somewhat spurious claims of "132 children have been protected" are included). Finding the real source of the images is much harder, and that's partly because (as one poster has already commented) there is no "industry" behind it. Most abusers are male relatives, abusing their own children in their own home with cameras they bought in a high street shop. The image of some sort of shady kiddy porn baron is frankly laughable - seriously, if they existed, how long do you think they would last?

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Holmes

Yup (mostly)

The selective reporting is an issue, and you are correct the images did not originate from them, they still had a case to answer for providing the service in the first place.

The stats don't actually relate to the source of the images being found. All the stats on the protected children means is that as a result of the further investigations of the clients downloading indecent material, there were 132 children identified who had been subject to abuse this doesn't mean that they had been photographed and uploaded.

Selective reporting is an issue here, as these could easily have been from further enquiries into the contacts of the subscribers and not actually by the subscribers themselves.

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Holmes

Another thought...

"So, if you're happy to have "kill all pedos" as your single response to this, here's the equation. For every pedophile you kill, at least one child has to be abused. Currently, that's the only way you find out that they are pedophiles, because they have ALREADY done something. Are you happy with that?"

Are you actually suggesting that killing a paedophile for offending causes the original offence, some sort of time paralax of Doctor Who proportions?

I'm not pro killing anyone.

Let's take your latest well thought out scenario:

Mr Paedophile abuses a child.

He isn't killed.

The child is still abused aren't they?

Mr Paedophile is free to abuse more children or continue abusing the same child.

Lets try a twist on your scenario (as it was you who raised the whole killing thing in the first place):

Mr Paedophile abuses a child.

He is killed.

The child is still abused aren't they?

Mr Paedophile cannot continue offending against either the original victim or subsequent ones.

Let's run with a more sane scenario:

Mr Paedophile abuses a child.

He isn't killed BUT is put in jail then closely monitored upon his release.

The child is still abused aren't they?

Mr Paedophile cannot continue offending against either the original victim or subsequent ones whilst in prison and is significantly less likely to offend once released.

I like the last scenario, no one has to die and children are protected.

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Anonymous Coward

Missed a scenario...

Firstly - the 132 children. I haven't seen any claims that these children were even being abused. Given how sensationalist the reporting is in all other areas, I am sure if abuse HAD actually occurred, it would have been made much clearer. My impression is that some of the subscribers had access to these children, and so they were "potential" victims. Protected from abuse sometime in the future that maybe, possibly, if the wind was blowing the right way, MIGHT have happened.

Onto "kill all pedos". Firstly, don't take everything as though I'm talking personally to you. There are other people in here who have advocated exactly that.

And since we're into scenarios, you're kind of missing my point. Yes, in all the scenarios you gave;

"The child is still abused aren't they?"

Yes, absolutely. But you missed a scenario.

Mr (gender bias noted) Paedophile realises he is attracted to children. He is also aware that if he comes forward he can get help from an understanding and supportive society (though in no way condoning any actual activity).

No child gets abused.

This is where we should be, and where organisations like the NSPCC (Child abuse must stop, FULL STOP) claim they would like to be. Again, my derision is not aimed at you, but others who think that the "kill all pedos" approach is some kind of cure-all.

For the record, I don't support the death penalty for ANYthing. Our justice system is not infallible, and going to someone's relatives with a "We are so sorry we executed the wrong person" doesn't really cut it for me.

Reading back, I actually think we kind of agree on more than the back and forth would initially indicate...

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Facepalm

Extremely Naive

Firstly I used the male gender as 99.9% of paedophiles are male.

I didn't miss a scenario, I just didn't include this latest one because to even consider it requires a level of nievity reserved for those who believe in the tooth fairy.

A sexual attraction to children is a drive, a deep rooted desire, suggesting that if people weren't reviled by paedophiles that they would all simply put there hands up and ask for help is ludicrous and shows exactly how little you really know about this subject. Making being a paedophile (non active) socially acceptable is a fast track to more abuse happening not less. Already in many cases there are adults who at least have suspicion and who by saying nothing allow the abuse to continue.

It's a beautiful and idealistic world you live in, I wish it was real!

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