One cop's battle with e-pornography

In a late amendment to the European Parliament's resolution on Slovakia September 5, MPs added the following sentence:
"[The parliament] is also alarmed at the report of the UN special envoy which identifies Slovakia as a transit country for the trafficking of children for pornography, prostitution and sex tourism."
Jan Marinus Wiersma, a member of the European Parliament and its special rapporteur for Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator September 25 that the amendment containing the excerpt above had reflected concern in the EU about how much child pornography was coming out of former communist countries in eastern Europe, particularly through the internet.

Štefan Omasta, a veteran of the violent crime division, calls for a global approach to child pornography.
photo: Ján Svrček

In a late amendment to the European Parliament's resolution on Slovakia September 5, MPs added the following sentence:

"[The parliament] is also alarmed at the report of the UN special envoy which identifies Slovakia as a transit country for the trafficking of children for pornography, prostitution and sex tourism."

Jan Marinus Wiersma, a member of the European Parliament and its special rapporteur for Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator September 25 that the amendment containing the excerpt above had reflected concern in the EU about how much child pornography was coming out of former communist countries in eastern Europe, particularly through the internet.

"Those organisations involved in the production and distribution of child porn sometimes find it easier to operate in eastern European countries, and this phenomenon is increasing," he said. "The Slovak government shows signs that it is willing to do something about it, but it often lacks the means and the information. It's an area of global attention, and I think Slovakia should seek cooperation with other police forces in western Europe and the US to tackle this. It isn't something you can deal with on your own."

But 'on your own' is a description that fits police colonel Štefan Omasta. Slovakia's sole police investigator following child pornography on the internet, Omasta says he is prevented by both weak legislation and the agility of criminals from proving their involvement in disseminating the horrific images. He adds that he often gets requests from foreign law agencies to act against people operating from Slovakia and placing child pornography on foreign servers, but in all save one case since 1997 did not get the information quickly enough to act.

For Wiersma, Omasta's situation justifies the EU's concern. "If there's only one police officer in a country like Slovakia dealing with the issue, who furthermore has to face legal barriers to tackle the problem, the combination makes it easier for people who make porno and put it on the internet to operate," Wiersma said.

The Slovak Spectator spoke with Omasta in his office at the police presidium, the a police governing body, on September 16.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Have you heard of the recent European Parliament resolution identifying Slovakia as a country of transit for child pornography?

Štefan Omasta (ŠO): I heard about it but didn't read it all the way through.

TSS: The daily paper Sme wrote in 1998 that two young Slovak girls from the Topoľčany district had visited Belgian suspected pedophile Marc Dutroux before Dutroux's arrest for murder and sexual abuse of children in 1995.

ŠO: Yes.

TSS: To what extent has Slovakia been affected by the global problem with child pornography, especially through the internet?

ŠO: It's a global phenomenon which increased markedly with the spread of the internet. Unfortunately, the internet is a communication tool which allows information to be sent around the world. Criminals who distribute child pornography very quickly understood their possibilities and began spreading such material through the internet.

In Slovakia, child pornography became a real problem at the same time the internet began to spread here, about 1996 to 1997 when we as police first began to warn society that such a thing could arise here as well. We initiated at the time the first government resolution against the spread of child pornography and the sexual mistreatment of women and children. Since then we have unfortunately been limited by our technological abilities. Our resources are what they are. But it's tough if you don't nip it out at the beginning. Most of the information we get from abroad relates to complaints that Slovak citizens have placed child pornography on foreign servers that are available to the public like Yahoo,, America online and so on. The problem arises in that we have to take action against individual perpetrators, and these people are very difficult to track down. They have the same problem in other countries. The problem is that these perpetrators don't have to be registered with internet servers under their own identities. Nor do they have to use their own computers. And server administrators [web masters] are not obliged to keep a record of these pages.

In Slovakia, server administrators store this information usually for around two or three weeks, but by the time information reaches us concerning a possible crime, this data is no longer stored in a fashion we can use.

TSS: Have you had any successes fighting such criminals since you began tracking child pornography on the internet five years ago?

ŠO: Well, last year we managed to document one case, arrest the perpetrator and prove that he had placed child pornography on the internet.

TSS: What legal tools do you need to be more effective?

ŠO: In the legislative arena, we could mention toughening conditions for internet server administrators, making them responsible for what their customers are offering the world through the internet. But this would have to be part of a global approach because the internet is a world wide net where the same legal conditions apply for the whole network.

TSS: Do you sense a willingness from politicians to make the necessary legal changes?

ŠO: The willingness is there, but again it's a question of how much they can do. Even if they gave us IP addresses, you run into another problem because many computers can be attached to the same IP address, like an internet cafe where there are no records of who was working at which computer at what time. So I could go to a cafe, pay my fee and put whatever page I want on a US server. The problem remains with finding out who, what and when. (laughs) I'm telling you all of this in very basic terms, because it's very complicated.

TSS: What about the web masters? Aren't they willing to help?

ŠO: To comply they would have to set up another server just for archiving data. Because we need to know not only personal data but also the times at which the person was using the internet.

TSS: Apart from getting complaints from abroad, what measures are you taking yourself against child pornography on the internet?

ŠO: The internet is monitored, but you have to remember that when I as a perpetrator place child pornography on the internet, that material is there for a very short time precisely in order that it not fall into the hands of the police, because in most countries it is a crime. Furthermore, while in the Czech Republic they have at least one computer office, here we don't even have that. Either I get on the net or my colleague from the financial crime division who has responsibility for computer crime. But we work mostly through reports from abroad from police and law enforcement organs which directly focus on this problem. This information is sent to us through international cooperative police channels like Interpol and Europol. Again, we run into a time problem, as it takes maybe a month for information to come from the US. When we try to verify the information we find that the web page no longer exists, and that the web master is no longer required to keep related information in their data base.

TSS: Police in the Czech Republic have said they regret their country's law sets a prison term of one year or the possibility of paying a fine for such offences...

ŠO: In some ways, and this is one of them, Slovakia has leapfrogged the Czech Republic in our legal framework. On September 1, 1999 Slovakia passed an amendment to the Criminal Code saying, and I quote: "Whoever abuses children for the manufacture of a pornographic work, or permits such abuse, or participates in such manufacture, is liable to a prison sentence of a minimum of two and a maximum of eight years. Similarly, whoever possesses or distributes or places such pornographic work on the internet or other electronic network is similarly criminally liable."

TSS: The Canadian government this year introduced a law to the legislature making visiting internet sites offering child pornography a crime. Do you think Slovakia will ever have such a law?

ŠO: Actually, when I heard Canada was claiming to be the first country to do this, I wrote them and said Slovakia had had such a law on the books for over a year.

TSS: But the Slovak law doesn't expressly forbid looking at child pornography, does it?

ŠO: In Slovakia, when you download and look at child pornography you are committing a crime. Child pornography as a whole is a crime - manufacture, distribution, possession - it's all related.

TSS: Working against that you have the fact that in Russia child pornography is not a crime...

ŠO: That's the problem - every country has its own individual approach.

TSS: What is the demand in Slovakia for child pornography? After all, the internet is not as widespread here as in other countries.

ŠO: Well, I remember times when there was one computer for every 10,000 inhabitants; now it's about one per 1,000. This is because of globalisation as well as a fall in home computer prices. Now you can get a good quality computer for between 20,000 and 30,000 crowns [$400 to $600], whereas a run-of-the-mill model used to cost over 100,000 crowns. Internet connections are also faster and cheaper than they used to be. I predict the demand for child pornography images will grow in line with these developments.

That said, by far the greater part of child pornography is made abroad. Our main problem in the past has been the making of gay pornography, in which our underage boys were abused in the making of such videocassettes. So far we have not uncovered any Slovak manufacturer of child pornography; the stuff I have seen and been able to track have been videocassettes from Ukraine.

TSS: Do you think the police should have the power to monitor email and internet traffic, or is the right to privacy more important?

ŠO: I wouldn't even go as far as asking for regular tracking. It would be enough if everyone was required to surf the internet under their own names. It's pointless for me to monitor someone's email if he is not required to disclose his true identity.

That's why we have to tackle this problem as a whole society. People with a taste for child pornography are ill in a way, psychically perverse. Child pornography is repellent for most people the first time they encounter it. But if we look back in history, at human development, and take for example ancient Greece and Rome, underage boys were regularly abused, even very young ones. I sometimes don't know how to judge it - if this is part of our human inheritance, that some people have such desires, or if we should look at it through the criminal point of view, or from the point of view of protecting these children. For me as a policeman, the protection of children is a priority, making sure they get a chance to develop without interference. Let them decide, after they reach the age of majority, if they incline towards being gay or lesbian, or both, that's their freedom. But as long as there is no choice involved, that's where a crime is committed. Child pornography usually involves an act in which the children are not given a choice - they are either forced into it, sold, or even pushed into it by their parents.

TSS: By the parents?

ŠO: In some cases of gay pornography, the boys were participating voluntarily, receiving money for being filmed. But we did have one case, in which we were not able to document whether it was a matter of child pornography, that the parents offered... it's very hard to talk about this... it basically involved fashion photography. The perpetrator was later arrested in Germany for distributing child pornography. The problem arose, and still does, in defining what is artistic and what is pornographic.

TSS: What is the difference?

ŠO: The Criminal Code says: "A pornographic work is understood to be the portrayal of genital or sexual relations, or the portrayal of genital organs, whose intention is to arouse sexual excitement or sexual gratification." Now I ask you - we have billboards featuring a model who is half-naked. Is that a pornographic image or an artistic work? Separating the two is very difficult, and the same applies to child pornography as well. The border is very thin, and I think it basically comes down to motive - why a suspected perpetrator has assembled an album full of pictures of naked children.

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