Thursday, September 18, 2008

Is prison just a click away?

Let’s be honest: A lot of people like porn. They surf for it, download it from Limewire or Kazaa, talk about it, rent it from on-line and brick and mortar stores, and hear about it a lot in mainstream media. Talk of watching porn is rife in movies like American Pie, those awful National Lampoon teen comedies, slasher flicks and pretty much anything intended to appeal to the 18-25 age group these days.

Porn has been around for thousands of years and the only thing that has changed is that the media has progressed from drawings on rice paper or parchment to virtual images transmitted by computers.

A couple of years ago I worked on an “Operation Fairplay” case where a school teacher was arrested for downloading child porn from Limewire. Working with the law enforcement expert on the other side, it was determined that 90% of the “titles” downloaded that had child porn descriptions were of adult porn.

Based on the Supreme Court decision I just posted about, it is conceivable that just downloading something with a CP description could be considered illegal.

A lot of the cases I work on involve CP that appears only in the internet cache or resides in “unallocated space”, areas of a computer that users cannot see without specialized tools. It is very common for a person to be prosecuted based on these images alone, even if no effort was made to preserve the images and where there is no evidence that the person was actively searching for child pornography.

In order to understand how this can occur, you must understand how browser caching works: When you visit a web page, all of the web page is saved to your internet cache, even if you cannot see the entire page. For example, when you visit Yahoo’s home page or MSNBNC.com, the page extends far beyond what you can see at one time because the page is larger than what your monitor screen can display in a single view. So while you are looking at the top of the web page, the rest of the page is being cached to your computer, whether you intend to ever view it or not.
This also includes anything that pops up. All those pop-ups are cached to your computer’s hard drive as well.

If your computer has an “internet accelerator” installed, which is a program that makes browsing faster, you will have not only the current page you are viewing cached to your computer’s hard drive, but the accelerator will attempt to anticipate what you are going to want to view next and can download the entire web site. This is so that when you click on a link, the page will immediately appear since it has already been downloaded to your computer. Some will even attempt to download other sites that are linked to the current page.

You are not as much in control of your internet browsing as you think you are.

What this means is that if you are an avid porn surfer, you are subject to the possibility of having images downloaded to your computer that you never even saw, much less actively clicked on or downloaded.

Remember, the entire page is downloaded, not just what you see.

And if you are unlucky enough to hit a “trap site”, a site that attempts to trap you by popping up dozens of windows and locks your browser to the page, you are now having all kinds of stuff force fed to your computer’s hard drive, in spite of what you intended.

And if some of that just happens to be contraband, you can go to prison for it.

Now you have to wonder if those teen sexploitation movies like Porky’s, American Pie, and many others that are based on characters in high school are not in fact purveyors of virtual child porn under the latest ruling by the Supreme Court since they depict sexual images of what could be teens under the age of 18. Unless of course, all the kids in these movies are just dumb and are really all twenty-somethings still stuck in high school.

And then there are games like Second Life that is notorious for role-play of sexual encounters between adults and children with areas like “jail bait”. Second Life has since banned these areas under pressure from Dutch and German authorities who threatened prosecution for these “virtual child” encounters under their virtual child pornography laws.

The latest current thing in the computer world is creating “virtual” child pornography, by using programs that can “de-age” an adult or by pasting the heads of children on the bodies of adults using Photoshop or some other image editing program. Even though this is not real child pornography, is it being treated as such under the law.

The Protection Act of 2003 broadens the definition of child pornography to include cartoons, drawings and artistic depictions. In addition, a new pandering section was added. Here is an excerpt from United States v. Williams, October, 2007:

“We shall refer to it as the Act. Section 503 of the Act amended 18 U. S. C. §2252A to add a new pandering and solicitation provision, relevant por­tions of which now read as follows:
“(a) Any person who— “(3) knowingly— . . . . . “(B) advertises, promotes, presents, distributes, or so­licits through the mails, or in interstate or foreign commerce by any means, including by computer, any material or purported material in a manner that re­flects the belief, or that is intended to cause another to believe, that the material or purported material is, or contains—
“(i) an obscene visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or “(ii) a visual depiction of an actual minor engaging in
sexually explicit conduct,
. . . . . “shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).” §2252A(a)(3)(B) (2000 ed., Supp. V). “

You can read the full decision here: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/07pdf/06-694.pdf

As the laws continue to tighten, the danger to regular people is being prosecuted for unintentional acts or comments that can be construed as pandering or possession. So the next time one of your buddies sends you an email with a link to a cartoon showing an adult dressed up like a child doing something with another adult, don’t click on it!

If you are tempted to take of a picture of your adorable toddler in the bathtub, make sure they are wearing clothes. And oh, by the way, better go back through those old picture albums and redact any of those bathtub pictures your parents took of you when you were a baby.

Otherwise, you just might be accused of possessing or manufacturing child pornography.

And in the climate today, just being accused is enough to destroy your life. You can forget about “innocent until proven guilty.” The damage will already have been done.

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