World banks align to fight online child pornography

A group of financial institutions, Internet companies and organizations fighting child pornography have formed a new coalition in hopes of cutting off online payment mechanisms for Web sites selling child pornography, the organizations involved announced on Thursday.

The announcement comes just a day after the U.S. Attorney General said that 27 people in the U.S., Canada, Australia and England were arrested for their alleged involvement in an Internet chat room used to trade child pornography images, including live streaming video of adults sexually molesting children and infants.

The Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography is made up of 18 companies, including America Online Inc., American Express Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Visa International Inc., PayPal Inc. and Yahoo Inc. The companies will work with organizations around the world, including Child Focus, the European Federation for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children and the International Association of Internet Hotlines.

The coalition initially includes mainly U.S. financial institutions, but European banks are also discussing the initiative and are expected to join within the next couple of months, said Dirk Debover, a spokesperson for Child Focus of Belgium.

The idea behind the new group is to cut off the mechanisms Web sites use for receiving payment for child pornography. “If somebody wants to download child porn images, they can pay for that by regular means like a credit card, as if the transaction is legal,” Debover said. “We want to push this commercial child porn into illegality.”

While the coalition members have yet to technically figure out how to accomplish their goal, Debover said that one possibility that has been discussed is that organizations like his — Child Focus — already have online mechanisms so that anyone can anonymously submit links to Web sites that are selling child porn. Child Focus turns that information over to international authorities like Interpol, which investigates the sites to determines if what they’re doing is illegal.

Coalition members hope that Interpol could share a list of the offending sites with them. Then, for instance, if Visa discovers that a company running one of the child porn Web sites is a customer, Visa can then stop serving that company. “This is the concept,” Debover said. “Now the technicians have to sit together and work out an efficient system.”

The coalition has the lofty goal of eradicating commercial child pornography by 2008.

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