- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

Federal law-enforcement authorities have arrested 65 persons in an on-going nationwide investigation into the trafficking of child pornography on the Internet through file-sharing networks, Attorney General John Ashcroft said yesterday.

Many of the networks had been infiltrated by agents from the Justice Department, FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), sometimes working undercover, in a probe that began two months ago and focused on identifying those involved in the distribution of child pornography.

“The Internet is now the marketplace for child pornography. The Department of Justice is acting to ensure that cyberspace is not a free trafficking zone for purveyors of child pornography and predators of children,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “No one should be able to avoid prosecution for contributing to the abuse and exploitation of the nation’s children.”

The investigation had targeted what federal authorities described as the expanding use of “peer-to-peer,” or P2P, networks, which allow users to freely copy music, movies and other material. The networks give users the ability to connect computers directly with one another to exchange files rather than using traditional Internet servers that are easier to trace.

In some cases, authorities said the Internet predators sought to use the P2P technology to lure victims for sex.

Congress recently began to focus on the prevalence of pornography on these networks, saying that children could easily stumble onto explicit material when they use search terms such as “Elmo” and “Snow White.”

Charges against those arrested so far have included possession and distribution of child pornography, and sexual abuse of children.

More than 3,370 suspect computers distributing child pornography through the use of peer-to-peer software over the Internet have been identified as a part of the probe, Mr. Ashcroft said.

He added that more than 1,000 domestic investigations into the distribution and possession of child pornography are under way.

“This investigation remains active and ongoing,” he said.

The maximum sentence for a federal child pornography distribution conviction is 20 years in prison.

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