Hackers' vigilante justice against kiddy porn?

Rohit Khare (khare@mci.net)
Thu, 26 Jun 1997 19:27:40 -0400

This crime is just like money laundering in one way: the only reliable way
to fight it and to have an effect on saving its victims is at the source,
at the placement, at the crime itself: when the image is first taken

Next worrisome point: kiddy porn IS turning into a thought crime. Every
time we tack it onto a sentence as a 'the net should be free except for
those vile 'philes, of course', we villify the *notion* of sex with
children, not just the act.
What *is* next on that list?

What will we do when we can have fully synthetic RenderMan blow-up dolls
acting out the fantasies protected as mere text in alt.sex.stories? Is our
liberty so founded on the 97% that a change of medium from one requiring
thought (literature) to one for the masses (film) is a criminal act?



Hacker Vows 'Terror' for Child Pornographers

by Steve Silberman

2:32pm 13.Jun.97.PDT After 17 years in the hacker underground,
Christian Valor - well known among old-school hackers and phone phreaks as
"Se7en" - was convinced that most of what gets written in the papers about
computers and hacking is sensationalistic jive. For years, Valor says, he
sneered at reports of the incidence of child pornography on the Net as
"exaggerated/over-hyped/fearmongered/bullshit."Now making his living as a
lecturer on computer security, Se7en claims he combed the Net for child
pornography for eight weeks last year without finding a single image.
That changed a couple of weeks ago, he says, when a JPEG mailed by
an anonymous prankster sent him on an odyssey through a different kind of
underground: IRC chat rooms with names like #littlegirlsex, ftp directories
crammed with filenames like 6yoanal.jpg and 8&dad.jpg, and newsgroups like
alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.pre-teen. The anonymous file, he says,
contained a "very graphic" image of a girl "no older than 4 years old."
On 8 June, Se7en vowed on a hacker's mailing list to deliver a dose
of "genuine hacker terror" to those who upload and distribute such images
on the Net. The debate over his methods has stirred up tough questions
among his peers about civil liberties, property rights, and the ethics of
vigilante justice.
A declaration of war
What Se7en tapped into, he says, was a "very paranoid" network of
traders of preteen erotica. In his declaration of "public war" - posted to
a mailing list devoted to an annual hacker's convention called DefCon -
Se7en explains that the protocol on most child-porn servers is to upload
selections from your own stash, in exchange for credits for more images.
What he saw on those servers made him physically sick, he says.
"For someone who took a virtual tour of the kiddie-porn world for only one
day," he writes, "I had the opportunity to fully max out an Iomega 100-MB
Zip disc."
Se7en's plan to "eradicate" child-porn traders from the Net is
"advocating malicious, destructive hacking against these people." He has
enlisted the expertise of two fellow hackers for the first wave of attacks,
which are under way.
Se7en feels confident that legal authorities will look the other
way when the victims of hacks are child pornographers - and he claims that
a Secret Service agent told him so explicitly. Referring to a command to
wipe out a hard drive by remote access, Se7en boasted, "Who are they going
to run to? The police? 'They hacked my kiddie-porn server and rm -rf'd my
computer!' Right."
Se7en claims to have already "taken down" a "major player" - an
employee of Southwestern Bell who Se7en says was "posting ads all over the
place." Se7en told Wired News that he covertly watched the man's activities
for days, gathering evidence that he emailed to the president of
Southwestern Bell. Pseudonymous remailers like hotmail.com and juno.com,
Se7en insists, provide no security blanket for traders against hackers
uncovering their true identities by cracking server logs. Se7en admits the
process of gaining access to the logs is time consuming, however. Even with
three hackers on the case, it "can take two or three days. We don't want to
hit the wrong person."
A couple of days after submitting message headers and logs to the
president and network administrators of Southwestern Bell, Se7en says, he
got a letter saying the employee was "no longer on the payroll."
The hacker search for acceptance
Se7en's declaration of war received support on the original mailing
list. "I am all for freedom of speech/expression," wrote one poster, "but
there are some things that are just wrong.... I feel a certain moral
obligation to the human race to do my part in cleaning up the evil."
Federal crackdowns targeting child pornographers are ineffective,
many argued. In April, FBI director Louis Freeh testified to the Senate
that the bureau operation dubbed "Innocent Images" had gathered the names
of nearly 4,000 suspected child-porn traffickers into its database. Freeh
admitted, however, that only 83 of those cases resulted in convictions.
(The Washington Times reports that there have also been two suicides.)
The director's plan? Ask for more federal money to fight the "dark
side of the Internet" - US$10 million.
Pitching in to assist the Feds just isn't the hacker way. As one
poster to the DefCon list put it, "The government can't enforce laws on the
Internet. We all know that. We can enforce laws on the Internet. We all
know that too."
The DefCon list was not a unanimous chorus of praise for Se7en's
plan to give the pornographers a taste of hacker terror, however. The most
vocal dissenter has been Declan McCullagh, Washington correspondent for the
Netly News. McCullagh is an outspoken champion of constitutional rights,
and a former hacker himself. He says he was disturbed by hackers on the
list affirming the validity of laws against child porn that he condemns as
blatantly unconstitutional.
"Few people seem to realize that the long-standing federal
child-porn law outlawed pictures of dancing girls wearing leotards,"
McCullagh wrote - alluding to the conviction of Stephen Knox, a graduate
student sentenced to five years in prison for possession of three
videotapes of young girls in bathing suits. The camera, the US attorney
general pointed out, lingered on the girls' genitals, though they remained
clothed. "The sexual implications of certain modes of dress, posture, or
movement may readily put the genitals on exhibition in a lascivious manner,
without revealing them in a nude display," the Feds argued - and won.
It's decisions like Knox v. US, and a law criminalizing completely
synthetic digital images "presented as" child porn, McCullagh says, that
are making the definition of child pornography unacceptably broad: a
"thought crime."
The menace of child porn is being exploited by "censor-happy"
legislators to "rein in this unruly cyberspace," McCullagh says. The rush
to revile child porn on the DefCon list, McCullagh told Wired News,
reminded him of the "loyalty oaths" of the McCarthy era.
"These are hackers in need of social acceptance," he says. "They've
been marginalized for so long, they want to be embraced for stamping out a
social evil." McCullagh knows his position is a difficult one to put across
to an audience of hackers. In arguing that hackers respect the property
rights of pornographers, and ponder the constitutionality of the laws
they're affirming, McCullagh says, "I'm trying to convince hackers to
respect the rule of law, when hacking systems is the opposite of that."
But McCullagh is not alone. As the debate over Se7en's declaration
spread to the cypherpunks mailing list and alt.cypherpunks - frequented by
an older crowd than the DefCon list - others expressed similar reservations
over Se7en's plan.
"Basically, we're talking about a Dirty Harry attitude," one
network technician/cypherpunk told Wired News. Though he senses "real
feeling" behind Se7en's battle cry, he feels that the best way to deal with
pornographers is to "turn the police loose on them." Another participant in
the discussion says that while he condemns child porn as "terrible,
intrinsically a crime against innocence," he questions the effectiveness of
Se7en's strategy.
"Killing their computer isn't going to do anything," he says,
cautioning that the vigilante approach could be taken up by others. "What
happens if you have somebody who doesn't like abortion? At what point are
you supposed to be enforcing your personal beliefs?"
Raising the paranoia level
Se7en's loathing for aficionados of newsgroups like alt.sex.pedophil
ia.swaps runs deeper than "belief." "I myself was abused when I was a kid,"
Se7en told Wired News. "Luckily, I wasn't a victim of child pornography,
but I know what these kids are going through."
With just a few hackers working independently to crack server logs,
sniff IP addresses, and sound the alarm to network administrators, he says,
"We can take out one or two people a week ... and get the paranoia level
up," so that "casual traders" will be frightened away from IRC rooms like
It's not JPEGs of clothed ballerinas that raise his ire, Se7en
says. It's "the 4-year-olds being raped, the 6-year-old forced to have oral
sex with cum running down themselves." Such images, Se7en admits, are very
rare - even in online spaces dedicated to trading sexual imagery of
"I know what I'm doing is wrong. I'm trampling on the rights of
these guys," he says. "But somewhere in the chain, someone is putting these
images on paper before they get uploaded. Your freedom ends when you start
hurting other people."