June 1, 2006

A View from Riverside Drive, Commentary by Ed Hynes, June 2006

Justin Berry case reveals business role in Internet pornography

The New York Times gave its readers a look last December into the sordid world of an adolescent pornographer who for five years, beginning at age 13, sold Webcam shots of himself in various sex acts to paying customers at his own Internet Web site. Justin Berry came off as both victim of sexual exploitation and criminal perpetrator, and has since become a witness for the FBI.

In reporting the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, the story also reveals much about the involvement of “legitimate” businesses in the Internet pornography racket.

In Washington on April 4, Kurt Eichenwald, the reporter who investigated and wrote the Justin Berry story, testified on the case before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He told the Congressmen:

Entire infrastructures have emerged to sustain this business, including both witting and unwitting corporate participants. You have already heard how predators have turned the ingenuity of some online companies against our children. Wish lists with companies like Amazon.com and American Eagle Outfitters – a wonderful convenience for gift giving – have become mechanisms for seducing children. Online payment systems, such as paypal.com, have been used to facilitate transfers of cash.

Communications programs from companies like AOL and Yahoo are used both for direct conversations between predators and children, and for the transmission of illegal video images. Many of these programs and services can be obtained by children in minutes, without requiring accurate identification or proof of either age or parental consent.

But, in addition to the unsuspecting companies, there are businesses that know exactly what they are doing. In my reporting, I discovered credit card processors who provided support for Webcam child pornography. I found web hosting companies that offered servers for the illegal businesses. I even found a company that provided streaming video to sites operated by minors, on condition that its president be allowed to watch the pornographic performances for free. I also located scores of marketing sites, known as portals, which were used to direct potential customers to the Webcam child pornography sites. These portals – many of which have temporarily shut down since publication of my article – underscore the scope and magnitude of this business. I have included as an exhibit to my remarks the internal listing maintained by a single portal of the almost 600 teenage Webcam sites that it marketed. Perhaps most disturbing was that major American and international companies advertised on these portals. The advertisements appeared immediately above images used by boys and girls to market their pornographic sites. Apparently, these companies were attempting to win business both from customers and teenagers themselves, as they offered services to help efficiently run for-pay sites….

In May, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox announced that Ken Gourlay of Detroit had been arrested on ten felony counts in connection with the Berry case. Mr. Gourlay operates Chain Communications, a web hosting service. Charges against Mr. Gourlay include Criminal Sexual Conduct, Child Sexually Abusive Activity, Using a Computer to Commit a Crime, Distribution of Child Sexually Abusive Activity and Accosting a Child for Immoral Purposes.

The Times story on the arrest was written by a business reporter, Jeremy W. Peters, who noted that an earlier story “on Mr. Berry revealed that at least hundreds of teenagers had created sites similar to his, with help from Web hosting companies that accept a lucrative cut of their revenue in exchange for access to the servers needed to operate the site. That is the service Mr. Berry said was provided to him for some of his earliest sites by Mr. Gourlay and his Web hosting company, Chain Communications.”

Mr. Peters wrote, “The arrest of Mr. Gourlay signals a new front in the government’s response to the revelation that minors have been using Webcams to run their own child pornography Web sites, one that could have a crippling effect on this once-burgeoning business.”

Grand jury indicts California porn producer and a distributor

The Justice Department’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force was formed recently to focus on the prosecution of adult obscenity nationwide. Early results became apparent June 1 when the Department announced that a federal grand jury in Phoenix has charged a California movie production company and a video distributor and retailer in Tempe, Arizona, along with three owners of the businesses, with “operating an obscenity distribution business and related offenses.”

The announcement, out of Washington, was made by Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Paul K. Charlton of the District of Arizona. The announcement said:

Five Star Video, LLC, of Tempe, Arizona, and Phoenix residents Christopher Warren Ankeney and Kenneth James Graham were charged with four counts of using an interactive computer service to sell and distribute DVDs containing obscene matter – identified as “Gag Factor 18,” “Filthy Things 6,” “Gag Factor 15” and “American Bukkake 13” – and three counts of using an interstate common carrier to transport obscene DVDs. In addition, Five Star was charged in a separate count with using the mails to deliver a DVD containing obscene matter.

Jeff Norton Productions of Chatsworth, California, also known as JM Productions, and Mike Leonard Norton, who resides in Woodland Hills, California, were charged with six counts of using an interstate common carrier to transport DVDs that are obscene. All of the defendants were also charged with three counts of engaging in the business of selling and transferring obscene matter. The government is also seeking forfeiture of certain obscene materials and profits, together with Internet domain name and website ownership rights.

According to the indictment, JM Productions and Norton distributed to Five Star via UPS various obscene films in DVD format that were in turn sold and distributed to the public by Five Star, Ankeney and Graham via UPS and the mails.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of five years in prison on each of the obscenity counts.

The announcement added that the case is being prosecuted by trial attorney Sheila Phillips of the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona. The Task Force is directed by Brent D. Ward.

Portable porn poses problems for filter folks

Adult Video News is encouraging its readers to “EXPERIENCE THE REVOLUTION OF PORTABLE PORN!” and “FILL YOUR VIDEO IPOD WITH 100,000 + VIDEOS” and “CLICK HERE TO TAKE YOUR PORN ANYWHERE.”

Meanwhile, the sober folks at the Wall Street Journal on May 25 published a story about efforts to turn back the lurid tide. It ran under this headline:

Firms Target Cell Phone Pornography
As Devices Connect to Web,
New Crop of Filtering Tools Tries to Shield Young Eyes

The Journal reported, “The explosion of pornography on the Internet has spawned a huge business in parental controls and other blocking tools. Now the effort is repeating in the wireless world.”

Among the technology companies working on ways “to block adult content from being viewed by underage cellphone users,” the Journal mentioned two:

RuleSpace LLC, a filtering-software maker based in Portland, Ore.
Blue Coat Systems Inc., based in Sunnyvale, Calif.

“All major U.S. cellphone carriers offer free parental-control services,” the Journal noted. “But none of the phone companies has deployed sophisticated systems that can identify and filter pornographic content in real time, which has been the norm in the wired Internet world. That leaves cellphone users with a choice between exposure to all kinds of Web sites or blocking all access to the Web. So third parties are trying to come up with various software approaches to sell to service providers.”

Of course, vigorous enforcement of federal obscenity laws can lessen the need for a technological fix by putting many porn providers out of business and motivating others to get out of the business of distributing hardcore pornography.

Manhattan DA gets rape convictions while ignoring porn

New York is a great and wonderful city but it’s open all night and some people think of it as America’s Gomorrah. Some attention to obscenity law enforcement would help, but Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morganthau doesn’t do that. He goes after rape and sexual abuse cases, as he should, but he ignores the widely acknowledged connection between hardcore obscene pornography and sexual violence.

Mr. Morganthau is proud of his Sex Crimes Unit, pointing out on his web site that “Sex crimes prosecution has made enormous strides in New York County. In 1969, only eighteen defendants were convicted of sex crimes; the figure tripled in 1975, following the first year of operation of the Sex Crimes Unit. In recent years, the New York County District Attorney’s Office has averaged 100 such convictions a year, with an overall conviction rate of around 90%.”

Do more rape convictions equate to “enormous strides”? Mr. Morganthau has 40 senior assistant district attorneys in the Sex Crimes Unit, all focused on rape, and not even one prosecutor investigating obscenity. Wouldn’t a few obscenity convictions cut down on the number of rapes? At a minimum, cleaning up the smut improves common civility and respect for women. Michael J. Garcia, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, could help with this, too, but hasn’t.

Fredericksburg paper argues for a porn-free hotel

The historic City of Fredericksburg, Virginia, struggled this spring with whether or not it wanted developers to build a Courtyard by Marriott hotel in the heart of town.

Editorials in the local Free Lance-Star newspaper May 24th and 25th made key points in the debate, pointing out that most early objections had to do with “the project’s size, its design, the composition of its masonry, its corporate label, its potential to disrupt and reshape the city’s soul. In short, newcomers and natives alike doubted the hotel’s compatibility with that which makes Old Fredericksburg a special place to be.”

The Free-Lance Star went on, making the case against Marriott’s in-room porn movies. It had the vigor once used in arguing against in-room smoking.

To fault Marriott for purveying porn, in a society in which porn is almost as ubiquitous as the home computers and TV cable systems that carry it, may seem fogyish. Anyway, the innkeeper’s job is to replicate the comforts of home, even those morally checkered. Few scold Marriott for replacing the dining-room liquor cabinet with the hotel mini-bar or selling gift-shop cigarettes to traveling smokers. But mounting evidence suggests that porn, in its personal and social consequences, is less like whiskey and smokes than the opium that once ravaged imperial China. Nor does all this evidence come from religious and conservative groups.

Pornography’s effects on the family, the bedrock of society, are often devastating. . . .

Family breakups catalyzed by pornographic addictions are just one way that cheap, accessible, and privately viewed smut – the form provided to tens of thousands of hotel guests daily – hurts children. Fathers lost in labyrinths of online perversion give less paternal time and care. . . . Such fathers (and, sometimes, mothers) also can jeopardize their families financially when they furtively feed their porn cravings at work or run up large credit-card debt on premium porn. Moreover, the marital tensions created by pornographic compulsions torture entire family units. . . .

In the United States, it’s estimated, more than 90 percent of Marriotts provide in-room porn. Marriott, along with the Hilton and Westin chains, received special attention as a corporate smut peddler in a 2002 Frontline report called “American Porn.” Entertainment analyst Dennis McAlpine told the public-television show that “adult programming” generates up to 80 percent of the profits from the in-room movie services supplied the hotels by pay-per-view firms LodgeNet and On Command. . . .

To its credit, Marriott has adjusted its standard hotel design to accommodate local themes and heritages. . . . The heritage of Downtown Fredericksburg also deserves deference. That heritage is one of founders and heroes, of Lost Causes and New Births, a veneration of the best of the old and a rejection of the worst of the new. Hawking human flesh via computerized video file to the ruin of American families is “un-Fredericksburg”. . . .

The paper made the point that “hotels of all sizes are beginning to capture guest dollars by stressing that their premises are porn-free.”

In 1999, Omni Hotels, which operates 38 North American properties, banned X-rated movies from its 15,000 rooms. . . . Meanwhile, two Internet sites promote hotels that refuse to carry porn movies. CleanHotels.com. . . offers bookings at about 1300 hotels (including 14 in Greater Fredericksburg). . . . TrueHospitality.org, composed of avowedly Christian hoteliers who often own several properties, is working within the industry to “eventually have 100 million room nights per year free of pornography.” Its site lists 143 pornless hotels and resorts, many of them upscale, in 26 states.

Man gets two months in jail for 44 counts of child porn possession

A story posted to the Internet at NBC4i.com (the NBC station in Columbus, Ohio) May 9 reveals another case suggesting that state court judges have too much discretion in sentencing convicted child sex abusers.

John McGuirl, an Ohio State PhD candidate, was found guilty of 44 counts of possessing child pornography on two computers. Franklin County (Ohio) Court of Common Pleas Judge Eric Brown sent him to jail for 54 days, saying he wanted Mr. McGuirl to “take responsibility” for each image of child pornography found on his computers. The judge gave the man nearly a month to report to jail because, “I do not want to get in the way of the defense of your dissertation.” Meanwhile, Mr. McGuirl is facing charges in nearby Springfield of soliciting a teenage girl for sex.

Patrick Trueman, former chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section at the Justice Department under President Reagan, offered this comment:

This Ohio case indicates what is wrong with state sentencing laws – many state laws are weak and there is too much discretion given to judges in sentencing. This judge said he wanted the defendant to “take responsibility” for each image of child pornography on his computers so he gave him less than two months in prison. What does the judge think the defendant is doing to satisfy his powerful lust for children when he is not looking at child porn! The probation sentence is also terribly inadequate: his computer will have blocking software and will be monitored by his probation offices. Which computer, the one he tells his probation officer about or the one he stores child pornography on? State laws need to be updated.

Author: Ed Hynes   06/01/2006

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