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BUFFNET ENTERS GUILTY PLEA
IN PORN CASE

A West Seneca-based Internet service provider pleaded guilty to criminal facilitation in what state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer says is a breakthrough case against child pornography.

BuffNET, as a corporation, pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal facilitation, a misdemeanor, Spitzer said. The plea comes two years after the state first pressured the company to stop allowing its users to access child pornography through the service's newsgroup, said Spitzer spokesman Darren Dopp.

Even an image accessed through the provider of a 4-year-old being raped that was shown to company officials two years ago didn't make the firm budge, Dopp said.

But BuffNET Vice President Mike Hassett said the state's "notification" came to lower-level employees who didn't relay it to company officers.

BuffNET, which has about 7,000 subscribers to its dial-up Internet service, admitted that it failed to take action when it was notified by a customer as well as law enforcement that one of the newsgroups it carried was being used to distribute graphic child pornography, Spitzer said Friday.

Its plea was made Thursday to a state Supreme Court justice who was holding a session in West Seneca Town Court. The company expects to face a sentence consisting of a $5,000 fine for the charge, fourth-degree criminal facilitation, after a court proceeding next week. Company officers and employees weren't charged.

"This case establishes a commonsense standard for the Internet," Spitzer said of the Internet service provider (ISP). "When an ISP becomes aware of illegal child pornography available in its system, the ISP cannot put its head in the sand."

BuffNET executives said they acted quickly, through their counsel, two years ago when first informed of the child pornography site. They blamed the delay in action with law enforcement in part on "the company's internal communications." BuffNET's policy has always been to cooperate with law enforcement and that possessing or distributing child pornography is illegal in most states including New York, according to the firm's prepared statement.

"The tremendous amount of dollars that would have been spent on our legal defense along with the emotional duress of our employees and their families made our decision to not defend the case," the company stated. "Instead, we felt there would be significant value in the long run to lead the ISP industry by continuing to aggressively push towards betters communication between law enforcement and Internet Service Providers."

The decision will make future prosecutions easier and sentences more severe, while making other prosecutions unnecessary, Spitzer said.

He added that the conviction should be a deterrent to mostly smaller Internet service providers known for refusing to block such activity by users. Such a policy can even be profitable, Spitzer said, because larger providers like America Online block these transmissions.

BuffNET's conviction, which Spitzer said is the first like it in the country, is not an assault on the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of free speech. "This is simply not First Amendment material," Spitzer said of child pornography.

He said an increase in complaints to his consumer affairs office about online sales and other transactions show the need to apply laws to Internet activities.

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