CNN U.S. News

12 arrested in computer pornography sweep

September 14, 1995
Web posted at: 1:00 a.m. EDT (0500 GMT)

[Child picture]

From Correspondent Terry Frieden

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- FBI agents arrested 12 people and searched more than a hundred homes Wednesday in a nationwide crackdown on computer child pornography. More arrests are expected.

The raids capped a two-year investigation into alleged illegal activity through America Online, the nation's largest commercial on-line service. Raids were conducted in more than half of the nation's 94 judicial districts. America Online, which has more than three million subscribers, is not accused of wrongdoing.

"We are not going to permit exciting new technology to be misused to exploit and injure children," said Attorney General Janet Reno.

The investigation, code-named "Innocent Images," marks the first time federal agents have investigated an on-line service on a nationwide basis.

Justice Department investigators said the investigation was launched in early 1993 when 10-year-old George Burdynski was abducted from his Maryland neighborhood. The identification of two suspects, who allegedly exploited the boys sexually, led investigators to the on-line service network.


"We are not going to permit exciting new technology to be misused to exploit and injure children"

--Attorney General Janet Reno

The subsequent probe revealed that adults and juveniles were routinely using computers linked through America Online and other services to transmit images of minors showing frontal nudity or sexually explicit conduct and to lure minors into sexual liaisons.

[AOL logo] A spokeswoman for America Online told CNN, "We are very troubled that some of our members are using our service for illegal activities. But we have to keep in perspective that out of 3.5 million members, those involved in this represent only a very small percentage."

McGraw said AOL does not monitor private communications among its members but turns illicit material over to the FBI if members complain about receiving such materials.

She added that the company is complying with FBI subpoenas. As to the company's policy, she said: "Child pornography is not going to be tolerated on America Online. It is illegal."

[George Burdynski] The Baltimore FBI office and a Florida state official set up an undercover operation, which was coordinated by the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. They discovered individuals who recruit minors for sex or child pornography on a large scale. Most of the children ranged in age from 2 to 13 and were pictured either nude or engaged in actual or simulated sex.

The FBI says America Online and other computer networks are rapidly becoming one of the most prevalent avenues for sharing pornographic pictures of minors and recruiting children for illicit relationships.

Investigators say the undercover operation focused on America Online because it was used by people identified in their probe and identified in complaints from some of its users. FBI agents involved in the case said similar activities are taking place in varying degrees on several other on-line service providers.


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