Porn importer presses on with image filter plan

Bryce Coad is still seeking venture capital, a business partner and government support to further test an anti-pornography filter despite being convicted late last month of knowingly importing 100,000 pornographic images into the country.

Bryce Coad is still seeking venture capital, a business partner and government support to further test an anti-pornography filter despite being convicted late last month of knowingly importing 100,000 pornographic images into the country.

He says the best thing that came out of the court case was the “constructive criticism” of a third-party assessment by Thackray Forensics on the practicality and functionality of the product, Moderator.

Assessor John Thackray, who acted for Customs, found some faults in the product but told the court that its concepts were good and that it appeared to be “very efficient”.

Customs stopped Coad at Auckland Airport in June 2000 and found 100,000 pornographic images on a laptop and two hard drives.

Coad gathered the images over a month while on a business trip in Israel, downloading what he calls the worst of the internet. This included content from “many nasty newsgroups” which covered every type of objectionable material. He says 100,000 images were needed to test the “real-time conditions” of Moderator.

Coad says Customs stopped him after what he says was a tip-off from a business rival. He did not consider the material was prohibited because he intended to use it to test the software. Had he known he was at risk of breaking the law he says he would have declared the images.

Coad says his subsequent conviction for importing prohibited goods may thwart his attempts to develop the pornography filtering system for schools and businesses and create a potential export for New Zealand.

Coad began working on Moderator early in 1999. He says after working with Auckland schools, companies and two ISPs, he saw commercial potential for the product. But its development past a pre-beta phase was halted after the seizure of equipment.

Rival porn filtering systems, he says, block objectionable images at their source by looking at the proportion of the flesh-tone pixel count. But much offensive material still gets through. Coad says Moderator can more cleverly compare images and targets the newsgroups where the trading of the most offensive pornography takes place.

Coad originally faced six charges in the Manukau District Court, presided over by Judge David Harvey, but they were reduced to one after he pleaded guilty. He was fined $750 for knowingly importing prohibited goods. Such a conviction, he says, meant he had to resign from Linux specialist Zombie Software.

Coad, who says he is financially struggling after the case, is looking to appeal the conviction but sees the downside. “It’s an expensive process, why go through it again?”

Plans to develop Moderator for use in schools by early next year are also threatened along with selling it in the US, UK and Europe. Coad’s conviction effectively forbids travel to first world countries.

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