Since he was elected to office, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has been targeting groups that victimize New Yorkers.
One of his most prominent investigations has delved into the seedy world of online child pornography, something Cuomo considers a scourge that must be eliminated.
Cuomo spoke to a group of about 20 parents and community members Tuesday afternoon at NOPL at North Syracuse regarding his revolutionary initiative to eliminate child pornography on the internet by getting internet providers to agree to block the sites that carry such content.
“Child pornography is one of those things that we’ve heard about for years, but it just keeps going on,” Cuomo said. “These agreements are essentially turning off the faucet of child pornography.”
Cuomo noted that his interest in eliminating child pornography stems from more than his role as attorney general.
“Most importantly, I’m a dad,” Cuomo said. “I have three girls, and it’s my job as a parent to teach them and to mentor them, but first and foremost to protect them and keep them safe.”
Cuomo’s program is a novel one, and New York is the first state to take it on. Instead of targeting the users of child pornography, as was the practice for years in law enforcement, the initiative targets the source. Since these images are transmitted over the internet by internet providers, Cuomo said he believes the providers are legally liable for the content. Using the unique “Hash Values” attached to every image, the attorney general’s office has compiled a database of web sites and images. Internet providers who sign the agreement are agreeing to match that database with their own servers and block access to them.
“Basically we’re asking them to sign a code of conduct,” Cuomo said.
The initiative grew out of a six-month investigation into the sources of child porn on the web. That inquest reviewed millions of photographs and uncovered 88 different newsgroups containing a total of 11,390 lewd photos containing children.
In order to encourage internet providers to sign on to the program, Cuomo’s office has established a web site, nystopchildporn.com, with information on the effort. Visitors can learn about the program itself, and they can also click on a New York state map to learn which providers in their region have signed up as well as those that haven’t (see the breakout box for companies in CNY). The web site also allows users to send e-mails to internet companies to ask why they haven’t signed up.
“We want New Yorkers to have that information when they’re choosing an internet company,” Cuomo said. “This is a powerful thing, because maybe they’ll decide they don’t want to use a provider that hasn’t agreed to block this content. When consumers act and say they’re not going to sign on with a company, it has an effect.”
Cuomo admitted that some internet companies have been reluctant to sign the code of conduct.
“There’s a lot that goes into that,” he said. “First of all, this has been going on for 20 years, and these companies have never had a proposal like this broached before. There’s a certain amount of shock involved.”
Once the shock wears off, Cuomo said there are three excuses he hears as to why internet providers don’t want to sign the code.
“First, they say, ‘It’s none of our business what people are doing or looking at. We’re just the provider,'” he said. “I call it the ‘hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil’ defense. But I reject that. It is a crime, and the companies are legally liable, in my opinion.”
Some companies try to hide behind the First Amendment. Again, Cuomo rejects that excuse.
“Child pornography is a state and federal crime,” he said. “It’s not protected speech. It’s not art. It doesn’t fall under the First Amendment.”
The final reason is an unspoken one, but one that Cuomo suspects is a powerful motivator for some businesses.
“If all of the other companies are doing it, might there be some advantage to not doing it from a business standpoint?” he said. “This is big business.”
But Cuomo isn’t discouraged by the naysayers; he said he and his office will continue to work their way down the list of providers until all have signed on.
“If you stop the distribution, you can reduce the number of children being victimized,” he said.
In making that statement, Cuomo has the support of a powerful agency. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has touted Cuomo’s efforts.
“[These] efforts are already working,” said Ernie Allen, CEO for the NCMEC. “We have seen a recent increase in the number of ISPs that are accessing our database of URLs known to contain child pornography. That is a tremendous sign that the attorney general’s initiative is making a difference.”
Cuomo said he hopes to make this a dominant practice in New York state.
“I want to make it so that good businesses don’t distribute child pornography,” he said. “I want it to be the standard. When New York makes this a dominant practice, other states will follow, and it will be a beautiful thing.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.