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The Dangers of Peer-To-Peer Sharing
Matthew White admits he was surfing the Internet for porn two years ago – not a crime for a 20-year-old American male. However, CBS reports that White downloaded child pornography onto his computer; he says he did it by accident while searching for college-aged women on LimeWire. LimeWire is a peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing network that allows users to share files, including music, movies, games, and photos, with each other.
White claims that when he discovered the files he had accidentally downloaded, he quickly deleted them, saying he didn’t like child pornography. About a year later, FBI agents were able to recover the deleted images from his hard drive when his family allowed agents to examine his computer.
Peer-to-Peer Sharing Networks
According to Wired.com, tens of millions of people use P2P sharing networks, and LimeWire alone boasts 50 million monthly users. The LimeWire program provides access to the Gnutella file sharing network, which is the current P2P network. It consists of many users and, because there is no central file server, LimeWire does not review or control material on the Gnutella network. While LimeWire attempts to filter out some illegal or objectionable content through user requests, users are responsible for the content they upload or download from the network.
P2P networks have long been used to allow access to images or music, regardless of whether or not copyright is protected. The Federal Trade Commission warns that file sharing can result in unknowingly allowing others to copy private files or the accidental download of viruses or unintended downloads of pornography. LimeWire allows users to enable a family filter or set filters based on keywords, file type or IP address. He says of Family Filter, that any such feature is “imperfect at best” and that not all content will contain the detail or information necessary to allow filtering.
The default setting in the Gnutella file sharing network is that documents downloaded from the network continue to be shared over the network. Users should disable this default so that files downloaded offline remain private.
The US General Accounting Office was asked to determine the ease of access to child pornography through P2P networks and the risk of inadvertent exposure to pornography, including child pornography, of minor P2P users. Child pornography was found to be easily found and downloaded from P2P networks. Using 12 keywords known to be associated with child pornography in a search, the GAO identified 1,286 titles and file names; 543, or approximately 42 percent, were related to child pornography. In another search using three keywords, a Customs analyst downloaded 341 images, of which 149, about 44 percent, contained child pornography.
The study revealed a significant risk of unintentional exposure of minor users to pornography, including child pornography. Even harmless keywords that could be used by minors, such as cartoon characters or famous names, retrieved images that included child erotica (7 percent) and child pornography (1 percent).
Privacy protection and constitutionality concerns
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled that a warrant is not required for authorities to view and download files traded on P2P networks. The court said the defendant was clearly aware that LimeWire is a file-sharing program that allows the general public to access files in its shared folder unless it takes steps to avoid it. Because a warrant is only required if a search violates a reasonable expectation of privacy, the court found that no warrant was required.
Wired.com says an FBI agent accessed LimeWire and conducted a search using the keyword, “Lolitaguy,” which the court said was known to be associated with child pornography. With a proprietary software program that identifies and flags known child pornography images, the agent used one of LimeWire’s features to download seven of the 240 files distributed to the defendant’s IP address, four of which turned out to be child pornography. child.
Defendant Charles Borowy claimed the agents violated his Fourth Amendment rights, saying he had a reasonable expectation of privacy because he thought he had disabled the sharing feature. However, he pleaded guilty to child pornography charges and was sentenced to 45 months in prison. The agreement allowed him to appeal whether the search and seizure of his computer files was illegal.
A conviction for possession of child pornography can carry up to 20 years in prison. On the advice of his public defender, White has pleaded guilty in hopes of receiving a three-and-a-half-year sentence. In addition, he would serve 10 years of probation and be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
The FBI could not comment on White’s case, but said users who download child pornography should call authorities immediately. CBS says Internet searches reveal a large number of complaints from people who say they accidentally downloaded child pornography through LimeWire.
Anyone who believes they have mistakenly or accidentally downloaded illegal material should immediately contact a lawyer for advice on their rights, obligations and how to proceed.
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