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Cuomo Speaks About Protecting Children From Pornography Online

Recent advances in technology have made it difficult to stop the distribution of child pornography, which has flourished due to the anonymity of the Internet. However, technology is usually a double-edged sword. “We actually want to use the technology against the pornographers,” said New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, June 29. Cuomo held a press conference at Jericho Middle/High School to discuss his initiative to protect children from pornographic images online.

Cuomo’s plan involves a new database of more than 8,000 hash values- sometimes called digital fingerprints- that are associated with child pornography. The database can be used to identify the corresponding child pornography images through the hash values and stop pornographic pictures from ending up on a website. Many prominent social networking sites including Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, hi5 and Livejournal, the photo-sharing site Fotolog, and the peer-to-peer site isoHunt, have agreed to use the database.

“By adopting the hash value database, these companies join a responsible and industry leading-group,” said Cuomo. “Collectively, we are putting technology to work and growing our partnerships to shut down the digital pipeline of child pornography and protect our families.”

The database will be housed by the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and maintained by the joint efforts of the Attorney General’s Office and DCJS. The database will grow as law enforcement agencies all over the country contribute new hash values.

However, the database has limitations; an image only maintains the same hash value if it is unchanged. If a photo is cropped or otherwise manipulated in a program such as Adobe Photoshop, the image data will change and the hash value will change as well. The database cannot flag an image as pornographic unless the hash values match, even if it is fundamentally the same image.

Nevertheless, according to Cuomo, social networking sites have been quick to cooperate in order to be included among the more socially responsible websites. While there is no law that requires the use of the database, Cuomo explained that he believed that given the choice to participate in the initiative, sites that elect to do so make themselves more attractive to users. “Which site would you go to? Which site would you let your children go to?” asked Cuomo rhetorically.

At the end of the day, not everything concerned technology: “Know what your kids are doing on the Internet,” said Cuomo emphatically, explaining that a parent asking their child what they have been doing online is no different from years ago, when parents would ask their children where in the neighborhood they had been.

What about the idea that a child’s business online might be private? “Baloney,” said Cuomo. “It’s your parental right.”

Other sites that have received a letter from the Attorney General regarding his hash value database are: Black Planet, Buzznet, eSpin/eCrush, Flickr, Flixster, MyLife (formerly, Orkut, Stickam, and Stardoll.