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Digital's Alta Vista—Pedophiles Paradise

Digital Replies—Useful Information

Digital Has Responsibility
Interview with Author and Lawyer Andrew Vachss

Three articles by Tom Helge Berglie
Originally published in Multimediaworld Norway, March 13, 1996


Introduction

Friday March 15th Digital Equipment Corporation started to establish barriers to prevent their Internet search engine Alta Vista from giving access to child pornography. This was eight days after Multimediaworld Norway confronted Digital with the problem.

Since the service was made publicly available in December last year, Alta Vista provided a safe harbour for pedophiles—a distribution channel through which they made their material available to the whole world, totally unhindered.

The story you are about to read is the very reason why Digital had to change their policy in this matter.

— Tom Helge Berglie, Executive Editor, Multimediaworld Norway

Digital's Alta Vista—Pedophiles Paradise

By Tom Helge Berglie, MultimediaWorld Norway (Oslo, Norway), 13.03.96

Child pornography is not only forbidden by law: For most of us the concept is synonymous with assault and abuse of defenseless children. While Norwegian Internet providers are doing all they can to prevent the spread of child porn, the computer company Digital Equipment Corp. has knocked down all the barriers. On the search engine Alta Vista, anything goes.

Digital is washing its hands of the business and claiming that it is not able to examine what sort of information its very thorough and efficient search engine digs up in the thousands of services on the Internet.

Usenet's newsgroups are where it is all happening. A couple of these so-called discussion fora bear very revealing names such as alt.sex.pedophilia and alt.sex.incest. Here megabyte upon megabyte of photographed rape and documented criminality flow unchecked each day.

If you try to log on to your local news service in search of these discussion groups, you will quickly discover that they apparently do not exist. All Norwegian and most foreign Internet providers have chosen not to make these groups available to their subscribers.

But it looks like their efforts may be in vain. These groups can nevertheless be accessed by anyone via Digital's Alta Vista service on the World Wide Web—without any form of restriction with regard to what sort of 'Net connection you have, where in the world you happen to be, or even how old you are, for that matter.

It was one of Multimediaworld's readers who suggested that the incredibly popular and fast search service was perhaps not as untarnished as it ought to be. I was highly skeptical about these allegations when I sat down to investigate the matter, due to my great respect for Digital as a well-reputed company.

To my disappointment, a couple of quick searches brushed all doubt aside. My respect was replaced by incredulity. My screen was filled with page after page of headings—6,000 entries were found under the search word alt.sex.pedophilia combined with JPG. JPG is the most used graphics format on the Internet.

I was given an in-depth overview of the newsgroup postings, which in explicit terms described their highly concrete contents.

Alta Vista does not stop at letting you search the news, it is also a news reader, according to Digital's own advertisements.

One small click on the heading was all that was needed to view the whole message. And I had my first encounter with a community which I did know existed, but which I thought was worlds away from my own PC.

Is there anyone who has more pictures of this gorgeous girl in fuck_dad.jpg? Please, I must have more!

Graphics group

After I had read a few more messages, I realized that this discussion group was populated by a very special, unfeeling and blunted type of participant. To gain admission to this club it seems you have to upload a number of pictures—the cruder the better—and in this way win the respect of the other users. But it must be the real McCoy.

A probable newcomer tried to impress the group with a picture he described as "my six-year-old niece sucking my cock." The only reaction he got for his efforts was to be accused of being a fraud—the more experienced members had seen this picture before, and were not impressed.

Many of the image files had descriptive names like do_dad, lolita8, siblings, 2kids, etc. The girl who was being abused in dadysgrl.jpg could not have been even two years old. Other pictures have more anonymous names, which in return indicate that they are part of a longer series of photographed rapes. The pictures K-11 and K-39 show scenes of intercourse between a grown man and a pre-school girl—and the file names indicate that there must be an enormous number of these kinds of pictures.

The people who visit alt.sex.pedophilia appear to have few, but clearly defined, concerns in life. The most important thing is clearly to collect as many pictures as possible. Next comes avoiding wasting valuable time downloading pictures they have from before which are circulating under new file names. Their third interest seems to revolve around problems linked to graphics formats and techniques for the efficient transmission of data.

A completely innocent search in Alta Vista's Usenet index for information about computer graphics in general is guaranteed to end up in the paedophiles Internet forum, sooner or later.

All of the participants in this forum use so-called re-mailing services in order to remain anonymous. User names and e-mail addresses are replaced by code names handed out by one of the many organizations which offer this kind of service. It is obvious that the participants know that what they are doing is illegal, but that they feel safe by sending text and pictures via one or more mediating services.

On the rare occasion when mail arrives from a more normal address, it is also usually from a more normal person. Frustrated and furious messages from people who have stumbled across this private party.

And there is almost nothing which irritates these misunderstood paedophiles more.

"Can't you read the name of the newsgroup you're in? What did you think youd find here?"

"I'm a Vietnam veteran and believe I have the right to do what I want. I fought for that right, and it's in the Constitution."

In the course of the far-too-long week I spent in contact with alt.sex.pedophilia I also had the pleasure of reading several direct death threats towards the members of the group—some claiming that the real identity of the members had been discovered.

But life goes on in this hotbed of child abuse on the Internet. And all sorts of digitized pictures of young children (engaged in intercourse with grown women and men, with other children, and the supposedly more innocent snapshots from nudist colonies) circulate unhindered.

The company Digital Equipment Corp. is highly popular in the pedophile community. Under the mail heading "A Wonderful Pedo Resource," Alta Vista is praised as a haven which provides completely uncensored access to their newsgroups and Web sites.

How long can Digital live with this praise?


Digital Replies—Useful Information

By Tom Helge Berglie, Multimediaworld Norway (Oslo, Norway), 13.03.96

Digital has no plans to remove or exclude newsgroups such as alt.sex.pedophilia from their search engine. The alt-groups contain useful information, Digital claims.

"Our philosophy is to index pretty much the entire Web. We aren't there yet, but that is our goal eventually. And on the Usenet we do index all public newsgroups. We see ourselves as a public service—a sort of conduit—and we don't plan to restrict material," says Patrick Ward, spokesperson at Digital Equipment Corp.

"We did consider not indexing alt groups on the Usenet such as alt.sex.pedophilia, but decided that, generally, there is some useful information in the alt-groups. We can't read people's minds and decide what is good for them and what is not, as these are all public newsgroups," Ward adds.

Multimediaworld Norway: So Digital has no plans to terminate its distribution of child pornography?

Ward: Well, as I said our position is that we considered not indexing the alt groups, but at this time no changes will be made.

Multimediaworld Norway: Is this policy approved by Digital's CEO or Board?

Ward: I don't know if the matter has been raised at that level.

Multimediaworld Norway: But is this official Digital policy?

Ward: Good question. I don't know if this is something that the Board has considered. But it is well known that Alta Vista does index what is public on the Web and in the newsgroups. And this has been accepted.

Patrick Ward goes on to say that Digital is very open to requests from Web users. Whenever they are told about or hear about something that might be of interest to a few people, they immediately give access to the service or information in question.

Multimediaworld Norway: But child pornography is in fact illegal in the US and most other countries. Alta Vista stores and makes available this type of information?

Ward: Alta Vista is simply an index of what is available on the public Web. It is simply a conduit to what is publicly available.

Multimediaworld Norway: Don't you think it could damage Digital's reputation to be referred to as—and this is a quote from a newsgroup posting—A wonderful pedo resource?

Ward: Well, there are a lot of other people that are doing a lot of other things who think Alta Vista is wonderful resource, too. Whoever posted that note is entitled to his opinion. And again, we have not specifically excluded that newsgroup from our index.


Digital Has Responsibility
Interview with Author and Lawyer Andrew Vachss

By Tom Helge Berglie, MultimediaWorld Norway (Oslo, Norway)

"If people knew that Digital was in effect providing a safe harbor for pedophiles, they might respond in a way that really counts. In other words, you can't boycott the search engine. But the search engine is produced by a company that is trying to sell products. I myself would never buy a Digital product after this," says author and lawyer Andrew Vachss to Multimediaworld.

Through his legal practice Andrew Vachss has acquired rare insight into the human sufferings which lie behind child pornography. He employs all the means at his disposal to fight the child abusers. As a lawyer in New York City, Vachss represents only children and young people who have been victims of abuse or sexual crimes.

In his crime novels Vachss lets Burke, the anti-hero, handle the abusers in his own merciless manner. In last year's novel for young people no lesser hero than Batman took charge as the nemesis of the child abusers.

Vachss knows of countless cases where the knowledge that the crimes were photographed or videotaped, makes for even worse sufferings than the actual act.

"Pictures which previously circulated only in closed circles are now, via Digital, being made available to Internet users all over the world...?

"It is just a matter of time before some of these people lose their minds. The next mass murderer could easily be a child whose brain has been fried by the fact that his or her violent degradation has been a source of entertainment to the whole world."

Vachss believes this is killing people: "Children are comitting suicide as a result of this, even now as we speak. I think the people who are doing this are murderers."

However, there are no legal authorities or police forces in cyberspace.

But how does Vachss see Digital's role in this situation?

"I think Digital absolutely has a responsibility. And I think what they are doing is reprehensible. But if you are going to use morality as a weapon against filth, you're almost doomed to failure. When people enter into an activity for commercial profit regardless of who they hurt, it seems rather futile to appeal to them on the basis that what they are doing is a bad thing."

"I don't think the public knows about the kiddie porn aspect. When this comes out in the media I think people may realize what it is we are dealing with," says Vachss.

Multimediaworld Norway asked Vachss: What is child porn used for?

According to Vachss, the purpose of distributing child porn is not sexual stimulation or some kind of emotional outlet, as many may believe. He thinks the child abusers use the pictures for three different purposes:

Firstly, they seek to validate themselves. They look at the pictures and say: Look, there are many others out there doing the same thing as me.

Secondly, the porn is used to recruit children: When children see videos of kids their own age doing what the abusers tell them to and force them to, their natural barriers break down.

But the single most important purpose of child porn is profit. No other crime renders such extreme profits at so little risk.

Multimediaworld Norway: But on the Internet this information is free?

Vachss: I think its purposes are still the same. In other words, there are human beings who profit from this activity. I don't know if the Alta Vista people are just ignorant—which I guess is a possibility—or very cynical. At any rate, I think Digital has a responsibility here.


This spring sees the release of the next—and possibly the last—of Vachss' novels about Burke. According to the author it is the most controversial book he has ever written.

Vachss' project as an author is to reveal what child pornography is really all about. A pedophile is not a lover of children. Child prostitution is not about children who prostitute themselves, but who are forced into prostitution.

Some critics have asked where the writer finds inspiration for all the cruelties contained in his fiction. But if we believe Vachss, reality is even crueller. In his forthcoming novel, False Allegations, he goes straight to the heart of the matter.

"I believe this will be really shocking to people. And educational, I hope. There are basically two sides to this war. One saying you must believe the children, because children never lie about sexual abuse. The other saying that this is just a witch hunt, that it is exaggerated. False Allegations walks right into the middle of that crossfire. If I have done it successfully, then you will know for certain where the truth lies when you have finished the book," explains Vachss.

He says he will await reactions before deciding whether this will be the last book about Burke. Who doesn't die on the final page, by the way. That book he intends to have published after his own death: "So even when people think they are finally rid of me, I will rise up and smite them one more time."

Multimediaworld Norway: Haunt them like a ghost?

Vachss: I hope so. I can think of nothing sweeter than the idea that my death wouldn't end my hatred of these human beings.



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