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US Internet companies vow to protect children online

Posted by iNext - 2006-06-30

US Internet firms Microsoft Yahoo Earthlink AOL and United Online formed a coalition to protect children online pledging a million dollars and their savvy to the mission.
Revelation of the campaign to thwart online child predators was an apparent move to sap momentum from hearings in the US Congress into whether to enact laws forcing Internet companies to keep records of people's online activities.

The Technology Coalition would be an alliance with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in Washington according to the companies.

"Child predators take advantage of Internet technologies not only to help distribute images of child exploitation but also to attempt to conceal their criminal behavior" said NCMEC President Ernie Allen.

"These leading companies have a wealth of expertise and technological tools that can help protect children and reduce the proliferation of sexually abusive images of children."

Coalition objectives would include using new technologies to detect and disrupt online distribution of child porn as well as to expose those exploiting children online according to the companies.

The companies said they would devote resources to developing tools police could use to track and capture pedophiles prowling the Internet.

"This is an extremely important global issue" said United Online Corporate Counsel Brooke Squire. "We look forward to working closely with our peers and with NCMEC to develop solutions to help protect the children of the world."

The coalition would balance the privacy of Internet users with the goal of eliminating online child porn the companies said in a joint statement.

"It may not be possible to eradicate all threats to children online any more than it is possible to protect children from all threats in the physical world" said AOL Chief Counsel John Ryan.

"However by better leveraging st century technologies we believe it is possible to increase the chance that child predators will be caught and provide a deterrent to those who would be tempted to exploit children on the Internet."

Nicole Wong associated general counsel at Silicon Valley Internet titan Google was among those that testified before a House of Representatives subcommittee on Tuesday.

Her testimony came on the first of two days of hearings into whether US Internet firms should be legally required to keep track of what people are doing online.

Google was among a group of prominent Internet companies that recently called for national law protecting consumer privacy especially when it came to digitallystored information.

Internet companies have held firm that people's online privacy should not be violated by police or government agents interested in mining data treasure troves for crime fighting or other agendas.

"Google is deeply committed to providing a healthy and trusted online environment for all of our users and especially children" Wong said in a weblog posting.

"While the Internet provides an amazing opportunity for people to connect with useful information some online material poses serious risks to children and families and some online behavior violates the law and should be eradicated."

Google removes child porn from its site when it is detected and reports it to authorities according to Wong.

"We work closely with law enforcement to help track down child predators and respond to hundreds of child safetyrelated requests per year" Wong wrote.

"We believe that much can be done to combat child exploitation online and are committed to doing our part to protect the Internet as a safe place for all."

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