Do You You Know What “Hash Value” Is? New York State Uses It to Combat Child Pornography on the Internet

Every online picture has unique “Hash Values” that, once identified and collected, can be used to digitally match the same image anywhere else it is distributed. It is analogous to a fingerprint.

As part of an undercover investigation, the New York State Attorney General’s office built a library of the Hash Values for images identified as being child pornography, enabling investigators to filter through tens of thousands of online files at a time, speedily identifying which Internet Service Providers were providing access to child pornography images.

This led to five of the world’s largest Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”), AT&T, AOL, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint to reach an agreement with the New York State Attorney General’s office to shut down major sources of online child pornography. For the first time, Verizon,

Time Warner Cable, and Sprint have agreed to block access to child porn from two significant sources. The companies will eliminate access to child porn Newsgroups, a major supplier of these illegal images, and will also purge their servers of child porn websites. “Newsgroups” is an online service not associated with websites. The Newsgroups act as online public bulletin boards where users can upload and download files.

Users access Newsgroups through their Internet Service Providers. The ISPs have also agreed to
(1) purge their servers of all child pornography websites identified by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (“NCMEC”). NCMEC regularly reviews and updates its registry of these illegal sites to ensure the list reflects the current presence of such websites on the Internet;
(2) implement a new system to rapidly respond to user complaints about child pornography; and
(3) collectively pay $1.125 million to fund additional efforts by the Attorney General’s office and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to remove child pornography from the Internet.

The Attorney General’s investigation reviewed millions of pictures over several months, uncovering 88 different Newsgroups that contained a total of 11,390 sexually lewd photos featuring prepubescent children, and in some cases photos of children being raped and sexual activity involving animals. Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint provided their subscribers with access to many of these Newsgroups.

Verizon and Time Warner Cable are two of the five largest Internet Service Providers in the world. Verizon has 8.2 million subscribers and Time Warner Cable’s Road Runner has 7.9 million. Sprint is one of the three largest wireless companies in the United States. The Attorney General’s investigation into Internet Service Providers allowing child pornography to be distributed online remains ongoing.

Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo has been very active protecting children from online predators. In May 2007, Cuomo worked with law enforcement authorities to investigate sex offenders who had been found on MySpace, a popular social networking site. In October 2007, Cuomo and the popular online community Facebook announced a new model to enforce safeguards aimed at protecting its network members, especially children and adolescents, from sexual predators, obscene content, and harassment.

In January 2008, Attorney General Cuomo sponsored Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP), the nation’s most comprehensive legislation to dramatically enhance protections for New Yorkers, especially children, from sexual predators on the Internet. e-STOP was passed unanimously by the New York State Assembly and Senate, and was signed into law by Governor Paterson in May 2008. The legislation restricts certain sex offenders’ use of the Internet and updates Megan’s Law for the Internet age.

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