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Students get a lesson from Cuomo as he aims to rid Net of child porn

Taking on the role of a teacher, State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo received solid marks from about 40 students Thursday after telling them of steps he's taking to try to cleanse the Internet of child pornography.

Facebook and MySpace, he said, have agreed to make use of a digital library of 8,000 known child pornography images his staff has compiled in order to block them from further distribution on social networking sites.

Thirteen other Internet companies specializing in social networks and peer-to-peer sites are being approached, he added, to see whether they would follow the example of the two major networks.

"This is groundbreaking because we're going to use the technology used to distribute child pornography to stop it," Cuomo said. He explained that each digital image has a mathematical fingerprint, known as a "hash value," that makes it possible to catch illegal images as they are transmitted.

The electronic library, gleaned from images obtained through past law enforcement investigations, will be updated as new images are intercepted by cybersleuths across the country, he said.

"We went to [Facebook and MySpace] and said, 'Why won't you take our library and run it against your Web sites and remove the images?' " Cuomo said of the approach that brought them on board.

Prior to the Internet, he told the students from Buffalo, Niagara Falls and the suburbs, child pornography was not widely distributed because of challenges in getting hard copies of it from place to place.

"The Internet is a great information tool. It's helped the productivity of the nation. It's also a very dangerous place," said Cuomo, the Democratic nominee for governor. "Child pornography has exploded because the Internet has a built-in distribution network that's anonymous, illegal, vile and immoral."

Students agreed that Cuomo is doing the right thing.

C.J. Sanchez, a student at South Buffalo Education Center, felt that the attorney general hit the nail on the head when pointing out that the Internet attracts dangerous individuals.

"When he was talking about bad online sites and talking to people you don't know, my cousin actually went through that," Sanchez said. "He was invited to meet up and chill with someone, and when he and a friend went, it turned into a drive-by shooting. His friend was wounded."

Thirteen-year-old Hector Santiago of the International Preparatory School at Grover Cleveland High School said it's not right that child pornography is part of the Internet.

"Keep up the good work," he said of Cuomo's efforts.

Despite efforts to educate young people in school to the dangers of the Internet, Cuomo said, 50 percent of youngsters surveyed have acknowledged communicating online with someone they didn't know.

"They try to lure and groom other young people into child pornography, dupe them into it by saying, 'Maybe you can do it,' " he said, adding that he is the father of three daughters and often discusses Internet hazards with them.

Buffalo School Superintendent James A. Williams, who was also in attendance, gave the attorney general high marks for turning technology against child pornographers.

"It's very important as technology changes so fast, faster than policy, to get a handle on Facebook and MySpace to protect children," Williams said. "Those things need to be done."

Results from the social networks' efforts to remove the images, Cuomo said, could be used in prosecutions against those trying to post the material.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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