Study Warns of Porn Access on Peer Networks

Times Staff Writer

Child pornography is increasingly available on popular peer-to-peer computer networks used to download music, and juveniles can be inadvertently exposed to such images while searching for songs or games, according to a General Accounting Office report to be released today.

Using the popular peer-to-peer network Kazaa, investigators for the U.S. Customs CyberSmuggling Center entered search terms they said might be used by children, including "Pokemon," "Britney Spears" and "Olsen twins." More than half of the images and videos retrieved from the searches were pornographic, including 8% that depicted child pornography, according to the GAO report.

The study -- conducted at the request of Los Angeles Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman and Republican Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia -- serves as a warning to parents, the lawmakers said.

"When searching the Web, children are somewhat shielded from the most hard-core pornography by the need to use a credit card to pay for access," according to a draft report by the lawmakers. "But on file-sharing programs, even the most offensive content, including illegal child pornography, is available for free. This raises new and difficult issues for parents."

At the same time, however, the congressional report also found that the amount of pornography on peer-to-peer networks pales in comparison with the number of pornographic images easily accessible on Internet Web sites.

Since 1998, 77% of complaints about child pornography concerned Web sites, compared with only 1% for peer-to-peer networks, the GAO reported.

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