Saturday, July 20, 2013

Some states require computer technicians to report suspected child pornography when they find it during consumer repairs

Recently, I’ve commented here on the risks to consumers that can occur if they are “turned in” to police by retail establishments when material they have submitted for development or repair is thought to contain child pornography.
  
The National Conference of State Legislatures has a list of states where computer repair technicians and information technology workers are required to turn in suspect material and identities of consumers to police or law enforcement, with the link here.

These states include Arkansas, California, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and South Dakota.

Generally, these laws don’t require technicians to look for it, only to contact authorities if they find it.
  
It’s not immediately clear how they would find it, or what their responsibilities will if they really believe it was planted by a virus without the consumer’s knowledge. Most states now follow federal law and consider the law violated only when a consumer knows that he or she possesses the material, but this has not always been the case.  

As with photo development, there would be issues of how technicians, not legally trained, would react to ambiguous images.  There are many gray areas, such as with animation or computer graphics, or with the use of adults to simulate the appearance of minors, or, of course, normal family intimacies.

Possibly a manager would be trained in the law, and only a store manager would contact police.  Perhaps police would come to the store or have a policy of returning the items within 24 hours if they don’t believe that a state or federal law was actually broken.  Is that asking a lot.

I took up this problem on the Internet Safety blog Nov. 11, 2009.  I expect I will add another entry about the issue there soon.  

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