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3/2/2003
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Business Technology: Kudos To Visa For Battling Pornography

I would like to salute Visa International, the payment-services and credit-card company, for taking a courageous stand against the global crisis that is child pornography. In so doing, Visa has accomplished several things simultaneously: helped law-enforcement officials shut down Web sites trafficking in this filth and pandering to the animals who patronize them; terminated the Visa privileges of possibly hundreds of other sites; threatened to sever ties with any of its member banks and other financial institutions that fail to register the names and addresses of merchants that use Visa and also process illegal pornography; and generally given huge assistance to law-enforcement agencies fighting this repugnant industry.

And Visa has done something else that might be equally important: It has shown that a private enterprise can act in both its own self-interest and also that of society at large by simply recognizing the big, fat, nonblurry line between right and wrong and saying, "Enough." Imagine what might happen if every company that could do something to combat child pornography--particularly via IT, which has dramatically expanded its reach and scope--decided that, like Visa, it would do something. In a time when respect for and confidence in many corporations is floundering, Visa has demonstrated that large companies also can be forces of goodness and credibility, that they can be willing to step forward and identify the scum who would otherwise continue ruining the lives of countless girls and boys. And it's not surprising that information technology has played a huge role in this crackdown, and that IT's impact in identifying and ultimately jailing child-porn producers, traffickers, and consumers will surely increase.

(I'd also like to salute and acknowledge fully The Christian Science Monitor, which broke this story on Feb. 24. Written by Ron Scherer, the full story can be viewed at www.csmonitor.com/2003/0224/p01s01-ussc.html).

"After searching more than 1 million Web pages a day for the past year, Visa estimates that 80% of the 400 Web sites it has identified as child porn have either been shut down by law enforcement or have had their Visa privileges terminated," the article says.

Visa's effort began about 18 months ago when it hired an outside company specializing in Web searches and monitoring to find matches of child pornography and someone using the Visa network. The company, based in Chicago and called InteCap, then turns that information over to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. In turn, that group passes the tips along to law enforcement, including the FBI, postal authorities, and U.S. Customs officials. Reuben Rodriguez, a director with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told The Christian Science Monitor that Visa's actions and ongoing cooperation "is a powerful new tool to assist law enforcement in these crimes, to eliminate a resource for individuals to use, download, and purchase pornography."

Of course, hewing to the adage that no good deed shall go unpunished, predictably preposterous objections were raised by--who else--the Electronic Freedom Foundation. In the classically overwrought thinking that characterizes so many of EFF's fulminations, a lawyer with the group tells The Christian Science Monitor that he "worries that Visa or other financial organizations will have the power to influence what appears on the Internet under the guise of protecting their trademark."

Well, that nonsense aside, congratulations to Visa for its leadership in being willing to fight child pornography on many fronts, and for aggressively deploying information technology for not just competitive advantage but for children's and society's advantage.

Bob Evans
Editor in Chief
bevans@cmp.com


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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