Archive for Tuesday, April 3, 2001

Child pornography cited as top Internet danger

April 3, 2001

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— Americans think child pornography is the worst danger on the Internet, according to a survey released Monday.

They are divided over whether they mind federal agents spying on e-mail, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project study.

"The Internet is not necessarily the bogeyman when it comes to how Americans feel about fighting crime," said Susannah Fox, author of the study.

"They're very concerned about online crime, but they don't see e-mail as particularly threatening or requiring more surveillance from law enforcement," Fox said.

Seventy percent of the respondents said they were anxious about computer viruses, with 80 percent worried about fraud and 82 percent concerned with terrorist activity online.

But the most respondents, 92 percent, said they were worried about child pornography, and half of the respondents rated child porn as the single most heinous online crime, far higher than any other choice.

"As soon as we asked the question, it was overwhelming how people reacted negatively to child pornography," Fox said. "It's something that may or may not touch the lives of every American, but everybody is horrified."


Concerns about criminal activity also outweighed Americans' fears about the government looking at e-mail.

While only 31 percent said they trust the government to do "the right thing" most of the time or all of the time, 54 percent of Americans approve of the FBI monitoring a suspect's e-mail.

Only about one in five Americans said they have heard of the FBI's controversial e-mail monitoring system, previously called "Carnivore" and now renamed "DCS1000." Of those, 45 percent said it is a good law-enforcement tool, but an equal number said it was a threat to the privacy of ordinary citizens.

"Knowing about Carnivore doesn't seem to change people's minds very much," Fox said, adding that the respondents were more comfortable giving that power to the FBI rather than to generic "law enforcement agencies."

But while Americans don't mind the FBI checking e-mail, 62 percent of the respondents said they want new laws to protect their privacy.

The results were based on a telephone survey of 2,096 adults, of which 1,198 were Internet users, taken from February 1 to March 1. There is a sampling error of plus or minus 2 percent for questions posed to the whole group, and plus or minus 3 percent for questions to the Internet users.

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