Steps to fight Net child porn

Police in April started to increase cooperation with Internet service providers (ISPs) to help contain the distribution of child pornography in and from Japan. Long criticized for not taking strict enough measures, Japan needs to do more to stop access and control distribution of child pornography.

Because of lax regulation in the past, Japan has been seen as an online haven for child pornographers. Some surveys by Interpol suggest that a very large percentage of the world’s child pornography has been distributed through Japan.

Part of the weakness is in getting Japan-based ISPs to help curtail sharing of such materials. The latest step by the police in cooperation with ISPs will make a dent in such online sharing.

The new approach will focus on detecting the transmission of child pornography and determining who is responsible. The ISP industry will now be required to send a warning email to anyone found distributing pornographic images. If they fail to respond or comply, their distribution activities will be regarded as intentional.

This is a step forward, though it may simply mean that distributors, after receiving such a notice, move elsewhere. The result may be a “whack-a-mole” game, where distributors pop up in one place, only to move to another distribution site on the Net once authorities notice them.

The new approach does not fully address other aspects of Japan’s relatively permissive approach to child pornography. In particular, Japan’s current laws against child porn rest on the issue of intent. The police and courts must demonstrate that a distributor intended to possess or distribute materials. However, laws do not prohibit possession of pornographic images of children or the unintentional distribution through file-sharing applications. Current laws need to better confront these issues.

ISPs have argued that allowing the sharing of files is an issue of free speech. Their concerns are legitimate about material that may simply be offensive to most people, but child pornography is different from other material deserving of protection because it directly increases the exploitation of and damage to children.

Those countries that have had some success in reducing child pornography have developed specific legislation and clear definitions. They have also moved to criminalize computer-facilitated offenses and simple possession, and to require more accurate reporting from ISPs as well as to establish sanctions and criminal sentencing laws.

Japan also has the potential to accomplish these goals. The step forward announced by the police and ISPs is one that will slow down child pornography, but more needs to be done. Hopefully the government, the police and ISPs will work together with Interpol and other agencies to restrict child pornography more completely.