A commercially operated internet site that lets parents capture memories of their children’s school activities might unintentionally be capturing the fancy of child-sex predators, according to area school officials and an internet watchdog group.
The American Sports Photo Network, a subsidiary of Photowave based in Marshall Township, Pa., pays employees across the country to photograph students at sports and cheerleading events. Those pictures are available on a web site for parents to download later to make calendars and other keepsakes.
But Blue Ridge Thunder, an internet watchdog group, said the site and others like it are ripe for abuse by pedophiles who can log on and view the picturesalthough that’s not Photowave’s fault.
“Decent people have no idea [of the potential abuses], because we don’t think in a sick, perverted way,” said Lt. Rick Wiita, of the Bedford County, Va., Sheriff’s Office, where Blue Ridge Thunder is based.
Chief Michael Bookser of the Bellevue Police Department in suburban Pittsburgh is a member of the Governor’s Community Partnership for Safe Children. He said pictures of local students online can expose them to predators worldwide.
“Ten years ago, whenever your kids went to the corner, they learned what they learned on the corner,” Bookser said. “Now, with the internet, they’re on a street corner in Amsterdam. That’s what the internet [allows].”
Kirk Russell, vice president of marketing and sales for Photowave, said no one has raised such concerns with his company before.
“This is news to me and news to our company,” Russell said. “If this is the issue, I don’t see how we would have a viable business. We’re all parents. I certainly would not do anything to jeopardize the safety of children.”
Russell said Photowave has had only five parents contact the company about removing their child’s picture in one-and-a-half years. “We have over 330,000 images. We do not post any images without authorization from the organizations,” Russell said.
But officials in several Pittsburgh-area school districts said they were unaware that pictures of some of their students were posted on the web site.
“I’m not aware of it. This is news to me,” said James Manley, superintendent of the Pine-Richland School District. “Our position is to do our best not to place student pictures on web sites, even our own web site.”
Mars Area Superintendent William Pettigrew said he, too, wasn’t aware of student pictures on the web sitebut after checking into it, he learned that parents gave Photowave permission to post pictures of individual students. Pettigrew said the district has no agreement with the company.
Russell said the site uses a security feature on photos that are not purchased that prevents them from being saved on computer disks. But when photos are viewed on the sitewhich identifies the athlete’s or cheerleader’s team name and statethey can be reproduced or altered.
“The simple fact is that sites such as that can be used for some very evil purposes. That may not be the intent,” Wiita said. “This site may not be alone in that … [but] it’s fraught with danger. We encourage our schools and everyone else not to do that.”
American Sports Photo Network
Blue Ridge Thunder
Pine-Richland School District