More ISPs Pull The Plug On Usenet

Justin Kerr

The New York State Attorney General’s office has won another battle in its war against child pornography on the Usenet. AT&T and AOL have joined Sprint and Verizon to drop large chunks of the alt.* hierarchy, thereby limiting access. This comes as a major disappointment to Usenet surfers who make legitimate use of the alt.* service. Internet service providers have been under increased public pressure to address Usenet abuse since a recent investigation turned up over 11,000 child porn images scattered across 88 different newsgroups. Intervention by ISPs was inevitable, but they are treading very carefully into the foray. Network providers maintain a strict policy of noninterference when it comes to moderating the content of their networks. Improper filtering of content can be seen as promotion and has lead to lawsuits in some cases.

Usenet is a giant bulletin board with thousands of “newsgroups” each devoted to a given subject, not all of which are legal. In addition to child pornography, Usenet has also proven to be a safe haven for piracy . Usenet’s small but dedicated community has operated out of the spotlight for some time, but has gained in popularity as users searched for an alternative to peer to peer networks. In today’s super sensitive legal environment Usenet has attracted a seedy subculture since it offers a clear advantage over Bit Torrent in terms of privacy. Because the IP address of the downloading machine is only known by the Usenet server, investigators have more difficulty tracking down users. Bit Torrent by contrast, broadcasts a user’s IP each time a packet is sent out or received.

With all that we know now, is Usenet worth saving?

Let us know what you think!

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