The FBI made at least a dozen arrests and searched 120 homes nationwide Wednesday, concluding a two-year investigation into the use of the nation’s largest computer network to distribute child pornography and arrange sex with children.
The raids involving America Online users marked the first time federal agents investigated the misuse of such networks for exchanging typed conversation and other material from computer to computer.
“We are not going to permit exciting new technology to be misused to exploit and injure children,” Attorney General Janet Reno said.
U.S. child protection laws make it a crime to create, possess or disseminate child pornography. Violators face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The Justice Department issued a statement, saying at least a dozen arrests had already been made and 120 homes searched, but that many more arrests were expected. Cities involved include Miami, New York and Dallas and Newark, N.J. The FBI refused to release any further details.
Child pornography isn’t allowed on America Online’s public spaces, and is usually transmitted via private electronic mail and private chat rooms.
The FBI said its investigation showed that child pornographers are turning to such computer networks more and more to lure curious youths.