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"Remailer" service shut down

Child pornography charges force the closure of an anonymous email service.

A Finnish operation that allowed people to send anonymous email on the Internet was shut down after accusations it was used for child pornography.

Johan Helsingius, who has operated the electronic message relay service since 1993, denied the pornography allegations but said he had received calls from people accusing him of pedophilia, according to the Associated Press.

Helsingius called the end of his service "a blow for Internet users and computer privacy," and said the charges are "not even possible."

About 7,500 messages passed daily through Helsingius' service, which acts as an electronic filter, stripping the return address from a message and relaying it to its destination in seconds. The service was the biggest of its kind in the world, with more than 500,000 users. There are about 40 similar services worldwide.

Anonymous servers or "remailers" are typically used by people to discuss banned issues in politically unstable countries and other sensitive matters such as suicide, family violence, and also sexual deviance.

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.

Last week, 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 passed through Helsingius' remailer.

Helsingius, however, said his computer can handle only messages smaller than 16KB, which is less than the typical size of a photo sent over the Internet.

Helsingius said he would sue The Observer over the "unjustified accusations."

Police officers have raided Helsingius's office five times, mainly because of complaints he has violated copyright laws or relayed messages insulting officials of foreign nations.

Last week, a court ordered Helsingius to identify an Internet user suspected of stealing files from a Church of Scientology computer and disseminating them anonymously on the Internet.