Internet Child Pornography: You *will* get caught

HardDrivesLast week the Department of Justice announced the arrests of 71 persons, including a cop, a rabbi, a scoutmaster, and other high-profile, high-trust individuals, in what has been billed as one of the largest Internet child pornography stings in history. The news of who is alleged to be involved in the conspiracy is old news to people in legal circles but seems to come as a shock to others. Why, I don’t know.

Many people seem to believe that people who view child pornography are “sick”, that’s the term that is always trotted out to describe them, but what does that mean? Well, most psychologists would agree that people who fantasize about child sex and then go the further step of acquiring child pornography to aid in these fantasies, can indeed be classified as having sexual pathologies defined as mental illnesses. But in my experience representing the people who get arrested for this crime, these clients do not fit the stereotype of the drooling predator. And the fact is, the vast majority of them will never make physical contact with a child. It’s pure fantasy and their own special form of self medication for the anxieties that typically prompt them to depart from the realm of fantasizer, to actor. Still, it is a crime to take that step and the rationale driving criminality is simple and straightforward: pursue the product, and you create demand which ultimately creates the horrible crimes behind the camera. At its heart, it’s an economic argument, a supply-and-demand function. But because we are a nation obsessed with sex, we put many resources into stopping this particular type of crime.

The technology used to catch users of Internet child pornography is sophisticated and ubiquitous. And the people pursuing it are well funded, well organized and tenacious. It starts with virtually every Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the US, where there often will be found entire business divisions devoted to tracking the content they host to keep an eye out for “contraband” (code for “child porn”). Microsoft has one of the largest and most sophisticated groups. These folks scan all content they host, looking for “contraband”, and other major hosts (Google, Yahoo, etc.) do the same. When they find it, they report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a group popularized by the TV show “To Catch a Predator”, and the driving force behind the “Adam Walsh Act”, a federal suite of criminal statutes that ranks child pornographers just below mass murderers in severity of punishments.

When NCMEC gets a reported violation, they refer the matter to local law enforcement officials who then get subscriber information (without a warrant). NCMEC tracks individual images of every actual child involved in child porn and if they confirm that an image somewhere is in their database, that information will go into a search warrant that local cops will use to show up one day, unannounced, at your door with search warrants and a team of forensic cops who will seize every “computing device” in your home (in the NY bust, over 600 “computing devices” were seized).

The facts are simple. If any child pornography is passing through your Internet stream at home, at work, on to your computers, or even just viewed on your computer, there’s a good chance that NCMEC will find out about it and that it will be reported to police. The next thing you know, police could be knocking your door down with search warrants. Don’t take the chance to “satisfy your curiosity”, it’s not worth it. You WILL get caught, and you will wind up paying someone like me a lot of money to defend the charges. Many of you will be innocent of any criminal intent, some of you will be accidental acquirers of content. One of my clients was even employed by Microsoft as one of their content scrubbers and he was wrongly arrested because he was working from home (his charges were dismissed after two years and a lot of legal fees).

We can argue the merits of devoting this much effort toward these crimes, but you cannot deny the reality that most people who succumb to the temptation are walking a very dangerous path and tempting fate. Your best bet at beating an Internet child pornography charge is to avoid it in the first place. If you see it, leave immediately, delete any images (even if they remain, your actions to promptly delete will provide evidence of your intent not to possess it), and stop going to the sites that provide it. If you do wind up getting visited by cops with search warrants, call a lawyer. Immediately. You’re going to need one.

Read more about the DOJ bust here.

– RP