Internet, Usenet News and child pornographic film clips

Mats Wiklund
Department of Computer and Systems Sciences
Stockholm University
Forum 100
SE-164 40 Kista Sweden
+46 8 161614

Version date 1999-nov-12

Internet is implemented by the interconnection of a large number of more local networks with several million connected computers in over a hundred countries. An additional number of countries have a limited access to internet, so that basic internet services like electronic mail works at least to a limited degree in most of the countries in the world. Due to a combination of economical, technical and social aspects though, it may be the case in some countries that the citizens do not have access to internet in their homes or at work, but (for a fee) from public places like internet cafés. Since many of the computer systems connected to internet serves more than one person, the number of people that have access to the internet is greater than the number of connected computers.

After having had its core in the academic world, there has been a gradual shift of which groups in the community that are using internet. During earlier conditions only, universities, collages, and research departments at large corporations and governments had access to internet. Recently, many companies without any research activities have begun to use internet to communicate with their customers, which in turn has been made possible by a large number of telecommunication companys selling internet connections to private citizens, at prices acceptable to the ecenomic situation of people in general.

Through the internet, different services can be implemented, for instance electronic mail to send person-to-person messages, WWW (World Wide Web) to display information to many in a structured way with possibilities to mix various types of content like text an images, or FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to transfer whole files containing computer programs and other types of content.

These services may be of very different, and must not be confused with the internet as a whole. The services can in turn be used to transfer information of various kinds, both legal and illegal. It should be noted that even though the illegal information such as child pornography should not be ignored, its amount is very small compared to the amount of legal information that is transfered over the internet.

The conference system Usenet News (News Groups)
An internet service that almost all internet connections gives access to is the conference system Usenet News, sometimes refered to as just "news groups". Through this service, any user can write his or her own postings, that can then be read by and commented on by any other user. The users of this type of service can be said to take part in computer mediated discussions without the need to be present together, neither geografically or in time.

The Usenet News service is at the time of writing subdivided into over 70000 news groups, corresponding to the different subjects discussed. Some news groups are more scientific in nature, while others more deal with subjets more related to hobbies and recreation. A very large number of news groups deal with subjects related to computers on computer programs of various kinds. Also, some news groups are dedicated to the subject sex and erotica, including pornographic pictures. Even though Usenet News was not originally designed to transfer images (but just textual information), images can still be transfered by encoding them in a form that is percieved by Usenet news as text, and the decoded after the transfer to reproduce the image again.

Some computers, running appropriate programs, works as news servers, storing the postings that the individual users make. Every user connects to one of these news servers to get and/or post information through the Usenet News, often a geographically close server is used. The posted information is then automatically passed on to other news servers in a cascading way, so that after a while the posted information is available on all news servers that carry the news group in question. There is no guarantee though, that all news servers carry every existing news group. It is up to the organization (or in rare cases the private person) that runs the news server to decide which news groups to carry on that news server. Therefore the number of news groups available may vary between different news servers.

Some news server operators have adopted a very restrictive policy, and does not carry any news groups dedicated to pornographical pictures at all, not even the legal ones. This may not have anything to do with moral values, but may simply be caused by the fact that there is no room on the serves hard disks for the relatively large image files.

Other news servers operators draw the line at illegal material: legal erotica is allowed but a news group dedicated to child pornography is not carried. This is a common policy. (Please note though, that it is still technically possible to post a child pornographic picture in a news group dedicated to regular, legal pictures. The users of that group may be upset and report it after it has happened, but there is no computer program that can automatically distinguish between regular and child pornography and thus stop the posting from being done.)

Finally, there are news servers that carry all existing news groups (exept perhaps some that have explicitelly ben set to have local distribution in certain regions only), among those a small number of news groups dedicated to illegal material such as child pornography. A user that wishes to have access to a news group that is not carried on his/her usual news server, can get access to it by using another news server that carries it. Some news servers does not allow anyone to connect to them, while others allow incoming connections from anyone with an internet connection (and, in some cases, pay a special fee).

Normally, the identity of the author of a posting in Usenet News is shown in the header of the posting. The authors user name is normally shown, as well as the computer system used to post. There are, however, several ways to become anonymous, one of them by letting the posting pass through an anonymity server (sometimes refered to as an "anonymous remailer"). The anonymity server strips off the senders identity from the posting, and replaces it with a code or a nic-name. The sender becomes anonymous, but can still be reached through his/her code or nic-name. The anonymity server takes care of email messages adressed to the code/nic-name in question and translates the code/nic-name back to the real identity and then resends the email. Using an anonymity server two persons can communicating with each other (including sending pictures) each without knowing the others true identity.

It should be noted that the anonymity server contains a data base that is used to translate back and forth between real identities and codes/nic-names. The level of anonymity achieved in this way is totally dependent on the person or organization running the anonymity server and the legislation in the country where the anonymity server resides.

It is also possible to become anonymous by simple manipulation of the client software used to post information to Usenet News. If this method is used, the sender is not reachable through email, but posts under a completely fake identity. Several anonymity server operators have tried to stop abuse of their servers by adding limitations to the file size (letting the smaller text postings pass but stopping the larger image files) or by prohibiting the sending to certain news groups explicitely dedicated to the distribution of illegal material. These actions makes it likely that the client software manipulation method is the dominant way of becoming anonymous in the case of child pornography posting.

Even though most news servers does not give access to a news group dedicated to child pornography, access to such a news group can still be obtained through some news servers. Since the internet is not limited by geographical or political boundaries, switching to a different news server is not technically hard, provided that the user knows which news server that carries the desired news group. In a previous survey by this author [1] it was shown that child pornographic pictures could be obtained through hard-to find news servers that carry all existing news groups with global distribution.

Although most internet suppliers, for obvious reasons, run news servers that do not carry news groups dedicated to child pornography, there are also companys specialising in access to Usenet News. Such companys usually claim to carry all, or all very high percentage of all existing news groups with world-wide distribution, and are easy to locate since they market themselves through the World Wide Web. This makes it interesting to establish if the news servers provided by these companys give access to illegal material like child pornography, but research in this area is lacking.

Also, the rapidly increasing technical capacity of computers and communication equipment makes it possible to handle larger and larger amounts of information, like for instance film clips. This makes it interesting to establish if child pornography in the form of film clips is being transfered through news groups. Research in this area is lacking.

The purpose of this survey is to establish if access to normally excluded news groups that are explicitely dedicated to child pornography can be established by using easily located companies that specializes is Usenet News access. The purpose is further to establish if child pornographic film clips, despite the very large amounts of data involved, are being transfered through Usenet News.

(Public version. To avoid increasing the distrubion of child pornography, this version of the method section leaves out the name of the service provider company and the internet adress of their news server. Researchers affiliated with universities or other academically recognized research organizations who can give references as to their authenticity are welcome to contact the author for full details for the purpose of verifying this work.)

All postings in the news group ("pre" meaning before, so that "pre-teen" limits the ages to 12 years and younger) were examined during the time period of 1999-nov-05 at 17:00 hours to 1999-nov-10 at 17:00 hours (Swedish time, GMT+1). To gain access to this normally excluded news group, an account was opened with an American company that provides access to Usenet News for the monthly fee of 9 dollars and 95 cents. As a compensation for initial problems with the credit card transaction, the company ecentually provided a so called "premium account" with a higher transfer capacity (but giving access to the same content) that would normally have been priced at 14 dollars and 95 cents per month. The news server set up by the American company was used to access Usenet News.

To access the postings in the news group the program Microsoft Outlook Express version 5 was used on a Dell Optiplex GX1 personal computer running the Windows 95 operating system. Film clips were wiewed with Windows Media Player and Real Player. Only film clips have been examined, still pictures are not included in this survey, except that they are included in the total number of postings.

Film clips where it is not absolutely clear that the persons shown are in fact children, are not concidered to show children. Only film clips where it is absolutely clear that the persons shown are children are concidered to show children. In practice, this means children with yet undeveloped sexual organs and other sexual caracteristica, such as absence of pubic hair, undeveloped breasts for girls etc, in combination with an overall posture concistent with that of a child. Also, to be concidered child pornography, the children would have to take part in some type of sexual actvity, or pose in a clearly sexual way. This aspect of the classification policy results in film clips merely showing nude children at nudist camps not to be concidered as child pornography.

During the time period 1999-nov-05 at 17:00 hours to 1999-nov-10 at 17:00 hours (Swedish time, GMT+1), a total of 2306 postings were made in Of these, 1741 consisted of either texts mainly discussing image quality, requesting various types of material, and being child pornographic novels, or still pictures (not part of this survey). Also texts arguing aginst child pornography were present, although to a limited degree.

The remaining 565 postings, or 24.5% of all postings, contained film clips. In most cases, each posting contained only a part of a film clip, so that many postings had to be combined to produce the film clip in question.

The 565 postings containing film clips combined to produce 32 complete film clips, out of which 9 were classified as child pornographic in the legal sense, that is showing children involved in sexual activities of different kinds. Apart from these 9 child pornographic film clips, one film clip showed a possible child, but since it was not possible to completely rule out the possibility of the possible child being significantly older, this film clip has not been concidered as child pornography. The remaining 22 film clips show obvious adults preforming sexual activities dressed up to look like children, and other types of legal content. Apart from the 32 complete film clips, some postings contained scattered parts of an additional 4 film clips that were not complete and therefore excluded from the survey.

The 9 film clips that were classified as child pornographic were as follows (please note that the senders identities are most likely faked by the senders):

Indoor environment, sound in the form of music, length 1 minute and 46 seconds. Film clip transfered as 97 parts posted individually, total file size 17.7 megabytes, sender "".

Indoor environment, kanji characters shown during part of the clip, no sound, length 3 minutes and 11 seconds. Film clip transfered as 59 parts posted individually, total file size 25.0 megabytes, sender "General Failure".

Outdoor environment, sound with japanese dialogue, length 3 minutes and 21 seconds. Film clip transferred as 8 parts posted individually, total file size 3.66 megabytes, sender "Pope John".

Indoor environment, no sound, length 6 minutes and 9 seconds. Film clip transferred as 73 parts posted individually, total file size 36.3 megabytes, sender "".

Indoor environment, the text "Vicky's First Taste of Cum" is shown in the beginning of the film clip, sound with dialogue in english and one other unidentified language, length 1 minute and 33 seconds. Film clip transferred as 8 parts posted individually, total file size 3.4 megabytes, sender "General Failure".

Indoor environment, no sound, length 42 seconds. Film clip transferred as 4 parts posted individually, total file size 1.53 megabytes, sender "General Failure".

Indoor environment, no sound, length 25 seconds. Film clip transferred as 3 parts posted individually, total file size 935 kilobytes, sender "General Failure".

Indoor environment, no sound, length 41 seconds. Film clip transferred as 4 parts posted individually, total file size 1.41 megabytes, sender "General Failure".

Indoor environment, no sound, length 5 seconds. Film clip transferred in a single posting, file size 539 kilobytes, sender "Major Vendetta".

Please note that the senders identities are most likely faked by the senders.

Discussion and conclusions
Through the Usenet News provider company used in this survey anyone can get access to the news group for a monthly fee of 9 dollars and 95 cents. This represents a way to get access to this news group even when (as is mostly the case) the company providing the internet connection has eliminated this news group from their news server.

In the news group, child pornography is being distributed. During the 5-day time period examined in this survey, 24.5% of the total number of postings contained parts of 36 different film clips, out of which 9 (or 25% of the film clips) consisted of child pornography showing sexually explicit actions including oral sex.

The increasing speed and other technical capacities both in personal computers and in the communication equipement used to establish internet connections, has made it a possible to transfer and view child pornographic film clips of up to at least 6 minutes in length via the internet service Usenet News.

Even though most news server operators does not give access to the news group, it is still in use through those that do.

[1] Wiklund, Mats: Internet, Usenet News and, Stockholm University, Department of Computer and Systems Sciences, 1996.

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