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News • January 18 2004

Internet mobile phones are the new frontier for child porn

Kurt Sansone

Statistics released this week by a children’s charity in the UK leave little doubt as to the internet’s contribution to the increase of child pornography with related crimes rising by 1,500 per cent since 1988. Perhaps more worrying is the spread of internet mobile phones that could provide child porn peddlers with a ‘safer’ medium to conduct their criminal activity.
Mobile phone operators concede that little can be done to stop paedophiles from using mobile phone networks to further their criminal interests. A spokesperson for ‘go mobile’ explained that mobile phone companies only provided a means of access to the Internet. "There is very little we can do to limit access to any certain websites and WAP sites. The Internet is an independent entity, and go mobile provides connection to the Internet via ISPs," he told MaltaToday.
Acknowledging that policing the internet is a difficult task, a spokesperson for ‘Vodafone’ told MaltaToday that consumers trying to access the internet from a Vodafone live! session, are prompted by a warning screen that the operator has no control over the content to be viewed.
The Vodafone spokesperson further explained: "The consumer is the person using the service and not necessarily the customer who pays for the service. These may be different persons such as kids using their parent's phone."
With mobile phones, child porn can be accessed anywhere and discreetly making criminals no longer tied down to their personal computers. This makes it all the more difficult for law enforcers to track down paedophiles more so with pre-paid cards where network users remain anonymous.
Mobile phone operators are not obliged by law to impose registration on customers utilising their network. "If legislation is passed that would make it mandatory for users to register their details, we would have to introduce such measures. So far, this is not the case," the ‘go mobile’ spokesperson said.
The Vodafone counterpart added: "In the mobile industry although a person may not be registered with the operator, a trail of his or her actions is kept by the operator. This information is easily traceable and made available to the competent authorities when requested according to law."
Another issue concerning mobile phone usage is related to the internet’s number one growth market; pornography. The red hot industry is also expected to be a growth market for mobile related services. Pornography is illegal in Malta contrary to the perfectly legal status it enjoys in other countries. Linking pornographic sites to an age verification system might provide a way of preventing minors from accessing these sites.
But the Vodafone spokesperson who spoke to MaltaToday was wary. "Vodafone live! in Malta does not have pornographic material. However a mobile phone can be used as the medium via which to access any material found on the Internet. It is very difficult to link all the material available on the internet to an age verification database as these sites are known to change their URLs and new ones sprout every day."
Child pornography and exposure of minors to porn sites are the downsides of the ever-changing mobile phone technology. However, both Malta’s mobile phone operators have offered their support to crime busting measures.
"go mobile encourages policing on the Internet as a way of ensuring that illegal content such as child pornography is not made readily available," the company spokesperson said. A similar appeal was made by Vodafone. "We support all legal entities involved in the fight against crime and the company has invested considerable resources in tracking down systems that support law enforcement officers."
However, the fight against the criminal and illicit use of internet may lie elsewhere than draconian policing. Ensuring that both parents and children are internet-wise is probably the best way of empowering individuals to face up to the potential pitfalls presented by the ever-widening internet frontier.

Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta