shut down permanently...

Adam Rifkin (
Sun, 01 Sep 1996 03:48:44 -0700

> August 31, 1996
> Anonymous E-Mail System Closes
> After Child Pornography Claims
> [H] ELSINKI, Finland (AP) -- Stung by child
> pornography allegations, a Finnish computer
> operator on Friday shut down one of the world's
> most popular ways to send e-mail on the Internet
> anonymously.
> Johan Helsingius, a private computer consultant
> who has operated the anonymous remailer service
> since 1993, vigorously denied the pornography
> allegations -- as did Finnish police who have
> investigated his service -- but said he had
> received calls from people accusing him of
> pedophilia.
> "This is a blow for Internet users and computer
> privacy, but I feel I've no choice,'' Helsingius
> said Friday. "It's a lie, and it's not even
> possible.''
> At least one group, a British organization that
> has used the Finnish "anonymity server'' to
> prevent suicides among despondent people who don't
> want to give their names, said it regretted the
> decision.
> Anonymous servers or "remailers" are computers
> that receive messages, strip off the name of the
> sender or replace it with a pseudonym, and send it
> on its way to its intended receiver in a matter of
> milliseconds.
> They are used by people to discuss banned issues
> in politically unstable countries and other
> sensitive matters like suicide, family violence
> and also sexual deviations. There are a half-dozen
> large remailer services on the Internet, although
> Helsingius' is believed to have been the most
> popular.
> About 7,500 messages passed daily through
> Helsingius' service, which acts as an electronic
> filter, stripping the return address from data and
> relaying it to a destination in seconds.
> On Sunday, The Observer newspaper in Britain
> quoted an FBI adviser as saying up to 90 percent
> of all child pornography he'd seen on the Internet
> had been supplied through Helsingius' remailer.
> Helsingius said his computer can handle only
> messages smaller than 16 kilobytes, whereas even
> the smallest digital images, even in the highly
> compressed JPG format favored for Internet
> transmissions, are at least twice that size and
> are often more than 100K.
> Paradoxically, Helsingius said that one of his
> motivations for setting up and running the
> remailer in his free time was to help victims of
> child abuse.
> Helsingius said he would sue The Observer over the
> "unjustified accusations,'' which were published
> at a peak of volatility over the issus. Belgian
> police are investigating several shocking child
> sex crimes and an international conference on the
> commercial sexual exploitation of children is
> about to open in Stockholm.
> Meanwhile, the Samaritans, a British group that
> counsels people contemplating suicide, is
> expressing concern about the demise of the
> service. The group says it receives about 100
> computer contacts per week, about 40 percent of
> whom want to remain anonymous.
> "He's really been doing a great service to people;
> he's done nothing but helped,'' said Emma Borton
> of the Samaritans.
> Finnish police who have followed Helsingius'
> activities say they found no evidence of child
> pornography.
> "We think it's a pity that he's had to close down
> the server because of something he hasn't done,''
> said Detective Sgt. Kaj Malmberg of the Helsinki
> Police.
> However, police officers have raided Helsingius'
> office five times for other political or
> commercial reasons, mainly because of complaints
> he broke copyright laws or relayed messages
> insulting foreign nations' officials.
> Last week, a court ordered Helsingius to identify
> an Internet user suspected of stealing files from
> a Church of Scientology computer and disseminating
> them on the Internet via the remailer service.
> In a statement issued on Friday, Helsingius also
> complained that Finland's laws governing the
> Internet were too murky to understand.
> "The legal protection of users needs to be
> clarified," he stated. "At the moment, the privacy
> of Internet messages is judicially unclear."