Internal Affairs is stepping up its monitoring of New Zealanders viewing pornography on the Internet.
The department has been logging on to a US-based site containing pornographic material and found about a dozen New Zealanders accessing it--a far higher number than from other countries.
Publicity about this action in the daily media gave many users the idea that the site was on the Web, and gave rise to much frenzied speculation in newsgroups over how Internal Affairs had been able to do this and identify users. Theories included use of the Waihopai satellite station, some elaborate sniffer technology or, at the other extreme, that the whole thing was a giant con.
In fact, the site was an IRC (Internet relay chat) group, says inspector of publications Phil Priest, which is why Internal Affairs was able to easily identify if not the individuals concerned then at least which service provider they used. Participants were trading still pictures and short videos of adults having sex with five-year-olds.
Officials actually communicated directly with one of the New Zealand participants, Priest says.
The operation is only the first, he says. The disproportionate number of New Zealanders accessing the site was particularly striking given that the operation was carried out mid-morning local time--hardly a peak period.
“We will be looking at this a lot more in the future--the area that concerns us greatly is the trading on the IRC of the child pornography stuff.”
However, the department has only a staff of six in its censorship division, and this group covers all publications and videos, as well as the Internet and bulletin boards. Most of its action has tended to be in response to complaints, but it is trying to be more proactive in this area, he says.
In this case, officials were responding to a complaint about the amount of child pornography New Zealanders were accessing. From that, they monitored a US site known to have much material of this type, says regional manager of gaming and censorship Steve O’Brien.
“It wasn’t as though we’d been tipped off about it by the US authorities, although that sort of thing is starting to become more common,” he says.
In cases where objectionable material is found on a Web site overseas, the department will notify the authorities in that country. However, it is unable to find out who in New Zealand is accessing any particular site. However, where the material is in newsgroups, material is actually held by the local service provider--which makes it liable. This is why, two years ago, many local ISPs cut availability to such groups, and why Xtra recently pulled its access to groups such as alt.sex.
In the case of the pornographic chat line, a disproportionate number of connections were from one particular service provider, says Priest. “One particular one kept coming up, which was interesting.” He won’t say which provider. Material at the site also included photographs and short videos of adults having sex with under 10-year-olds.
Identifying local users downloading objectionable material is difficult, though.
“You can identify where that material is being accessed, but you’ve then got to do a lot more research in order to find that person. There’s one case where we’ve got three people with very similar names all at the same service provider.”
If illicit material is downloaded on to a machine in the workplace it can also be difficult to identify just who is responsible. Thus far this hasn’t been an issue, says Priest, although the work PCs of people charged with downloading objectionable material on to home machines have been examined as part of the investigation.