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BUFFNET ENTERS CHILD-PORN PLEA

Internet provider BuffNET of West Seneca has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for failing to immediately purge child pornography from its system, in what state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer called a breakthrough case against child pornography.

The plea, which was entered Thursday before State Supreme Court Justice Vincent E. Doyle, ends a 2 1/2 -year case that helps define how much responsibility Internet providers have for the material passing through their system.

The West Seneca company, formally known as Marketing & Advertising Services Center, agreed to the plea to end the expense of the case without setting new burdens on Internet providers, Vice President Mike Hassett said.

Although illegal material appeared on a BuffNET "newsgroup" Internet server, the company had no hand in the creation of the material and never promoted its distribution, Hassett said.

Spitzer spokesman Darren Dopp said of the plea: "It's a breakthrough in the war against child pornography, it's not censorship. He said the message from Spitzer is "act like any telephone company or other company. When you're told of a problem, act on it."

The company, which has about 7,000 subscribers to its dial-up Internet service, expects to face a sentence consisting of a $5,000 for the charge, fourth-degree criminal facilitation, after a court proceeding next week. Company officers and employees weren't charged.

Investigators for the state attorney general's office confiscated a BuffNET computer in October 1998 after finding images of child pornography available over BuffNET's system. Equipment was also seized from a Syracuse-area Internet provider, which has filed a lawsuit against the state.

The charges arose because BuffNET failed to purge the images after being notified of their existence, prosecutors said.

But BuffNET said the notification, to lower-level employees, wasn't relayed to company officers, contributing to the problem. New policies in place ensure that complaints of illegal material are routed to an owner of the company immediately for action, he said.

Internet providers pass along billions of bytes of information daily to their subscribers, making it impossible for them to screen the material, Hassett said.

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