Sunday, December 11, 2016

Russia alleged to have planted c.p. on enemies' home computers (NYT story)

Apparently foreign governments or entities, especially Russia, are willing to hack to plant child pornography on their enemies’ personal computers.  Andrew Higgins has a front page story in the New York Times, “Russia’s foes say child porn is planted to destroy”.
The NYT presents the story of veteran Soviet dissident Valdimir K. Bukovsky, 73, who recently found his home computers seized in Cambridge, England by British police.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Trump's ideas on stopping terror could lead to c.p.-like laws on possessing or even accessing certain websites

The Trump presidency is likely to bring up the issue of web content supporting terrorism or aimed at recruiting teens and young adults to make war-like attacks on American civilians.

Because the terror threats come from foreign sources (which may or may not be state supported, or which may arise from “failed states” unable to control religious extremism), the law could come to treat “possession” of recruitment materials as comparable to other criminal possessions (such as child pornography).  France has already tried to make even accessing a terror recruiting site a crime (like Rumiyah?)

It also brings up censorship and filtering issues like what we saw in the past with CDA and COPA.Like
Likewise, gutting net neutrality could stimulate a new debate on filtering, as telecommunications providers could try to offer “family” access that block many sites or that require whitelisting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cloud service detects child pornography upload from smart phone of a Maryland sheriff

There is a law enforcement story indicating that cloud services now do screen uploaded images for child pornography, at least for pre-catalogued digital fingerprints of known images.  Previously, Google had once turned in someone in Houston, Texas for transmitting such an image in Gmail.

An officer in the Charles County Sheriff’s Office (Maryland, SE of Washington DC) was arrested after an image was detected being uploaded from his smartphone.  It was not said which phone or which cloud service.

WJLA7 in Washington has the story here .  The cloud issue was mentioned verbally in the report this evening.

The image had been reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children which in turn contacted Charles County officials.

The officer has been forbidden to have any Internet access or access to weapons while he awaits tria on bond.

These events of automated detection are rare but troubling.  It sounds like something that can happen with minor children, roommates or guests, or even people who hijack a router.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Appearances do matter whenever there is a remote suggestion of connection to abuse of minors

I can’t resist putting this one up.

The FBI apparently didn’t tell Comey that it knew it could find more Clinton-related emails on devices associated with putative ‘sex offender” Anthony Weiner.

The whole story of search warrants and immunities, and judicial procedure is quite complicated.  In any case, it looks like the FBI may find more emails Hillary had actually “deleted”.

But, as I found out when I worked as a sub, you can’t accidentally let yourself connected to “personal stuff” like this.  This whole “lifelong process piece” just got “more bad”.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Experts say home users with wireless routers should still be wary of liability for criminal outside use by hackers (especially c.p.)

I just wanted to point out a 2011 link I found on CNET that reminds users that it is conceivable someone could be arrested and prosecuted if someone outside their home uses a home router connection to download child pornography.

Home routers are often shipped to customers from their ISP’s, often in units that also contain the cable modems.  Setup is a little complicated, but hopefully if the user follows the directions the routers have the best security (WPA2).

However, other sources claim that users need to teach themselves wireless security well, as in this case.

There is still a bit of uncertainty in the law as to how well the “mens rea” doctrine  would protect the user.

Users in private homes should insist that police enforce parking regulations if jurisdictions require stickers, and should report unusual vehicles that sit around (especially when occupied) without explanation. This could include rented trucks.  There is a connection between good home security and wireless security.

Because wireless hot spots keep getting better and more powerful, I wonder if they are inherently safer (as long as you know where the device is).  The main problem is data limits.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

In a Massachusetts middle school, sexting leaves an excruciating trail behind for years

Jessica Contrera has a big story ("And Everyone Saw It") in the Washington Post today about a sexting scandal in the middle school system in Worcester, MA.

A boy in eighth grade convinced several girls to send him indecent selfies.  Although he was “caught”, it has taken years to resolve his case.  In the meantime, the photos leaked out over the years, with principals having to call the girls’ parents to involve them.

Massachusetts, despite its progressive reputation, hasn’t updated its child porn laws for the reality of today’s technology. So prosecutors try to plea bargain the charges down to misdemeanors with community service and probation, but that is difficult and painful, involving hours of professional counseling.

Should middle-school kids have smart phones in school away from their parents?  Probably not. Kids of this age are just not biologically brain-mature enough to grasp the consequences of what can happen.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Washington Post Outlook column reviews history of CDA, attempts to limit Section 230

The Washington Post Outlook section Sunday celebrates the birthday of the World Wide Web in August 1991, and Sarah Jeong maintains “the history of the Web was driven by pictures of naked women” (sometimes men)    he has a book “The Internet of Garbage”.

She does discuss the Communications Decency Act of 1996, and the Section 230 that survived, and suggests that Silicon Valley lobbying has protected most of Section 230 from revenge porn bills and sex-trafficking bills which could affect service providers.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Obsession with sex offenders is branding people for life for low-level, juvenile offenses

Eric Berkowitz has a big editorial in the New York Times, review, p 7, July 31, “Punishment that doesn’t fit the crime”, with a byline, “Innocent acts have gotten kids branded as lifelong predators.”

He gives an example of a kid who was abused who then was himself convicted of an “offense” with a cousin at age 13, and then banned from a college campus years later.  

Remember the narrative of the case of Zach Anderson in Michigan and Indiana, link.

This would seem to raise constitutional questions about "cruel and unusual punishment". 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

New York Times columnist seems to bring back debate over COPA, settled as unconstitutional in 2007

Sunday. July 17, 2016, the New York Times offers a stinging op-ed by Judith Shulevitz, “On PronHub, nobody knows you’re a kid”, or online, “It’s O.K.,liberal parnents, you can freak out about porn”    Her subtext, “Conservatives overact, but I’m tired of liberals pretending porn isn’t a problem.” Her starting point is a GOP platform claim that porn is a “public health problem”.

She gives an American Library Association link that does distinguish among COPA, CIPA, and CIPPA  but her main concern seems to be the unconstitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act, as established in 2007.

She says Kennedy is wrong, filters just don’t work.  There’s also a hint that parents have more responsibility to watch out for than do non-parents (and she’s right).  And she’s right that the ungated nature of user generated content, and ease of dissemination (outside the major social media companies’ TOS) complicated the job for parents compared to the good old Reagan days.
She points out an article in Aeon, “Datagasm” about really “creative” and targeted  porn here

She also refers to the work of Danah Boyd.

Friday, July 01, 2016

"Illegal" Twitter followers could pose at least a theoretical risk

Recently I’ve gotten “followed” on Twitter twice (one other time months ago) by female with the word “teen” in the profile name and a nude picture. 

Although a “teen” could be 18 or 19 and therefore any pornographic images could be legal, I blocked both followers.

There is at least a theoretical risk that an illegal image would be left in the account holder’s cache from viewing the profile to block or report the account.

I’ve talked about the possibility of inadvertent reception of illegal images here before (and on the Internet safety blog), especially in July of 2013.  A few states, in the past at least, especially Arizona, have interpreted possession as a “strict liability” offence.  It appears that most states would interpret a matter like this as whether the defendant had made a “good faith” attempt to block the images prospectively once learning of them (Wiki on “strict liability” )  A few states may (like Florida) may have on-the-books rules requiring reporting to law enforcement.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

FBI stings of home computers by hacking for child pornography don't violate 4th Amendment (federal court in Virginia)

Electronic Frontier Foundation has warned consumers about a recent decision from a Virginia federal court that “the Fourth Amendment does not protect your home computer,” article by Mark Rumold.

The case at issue is the FBI’s investigation of Playpen, which had allegedly investigated child pornography.  The problem is that the FBI continued to run a fake site as a sting to nab home users downloading it, to charge them with possession.  This would raise the idea that cloud services could be scanned, too.

The text of the decision from Newport News is here.

The FBI has been ordered to show the code and methods used to conduct the sting through TOR, story

Friday, May 13, 2016

"Sextortation" scams threaten young women, may leak into c.p. legally

Somewhat in the spirit of this little blog, It’s well to document the problem of “sextortion” (extortion).  Typically, a young adult or older minor, usually a female, gains the “trust” of someone who asks for sexually explicit photos.  Then the criminal threatens to release explicit photos in social media unless “ransom” is paid (there is a criminal investigation about such an incident at George Mason University in Fairfax VA now), or more sexually explicit material continues. It’s pretty obvious to common sense that such a scheme could include photography of minors and constitute child pornography distribution.
CNN has a typical story here.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Autistic man in VA indicted for possession of c.p., acquired through peer-peer app, legal circumstances are troubling

NBC Washington (NBC4) has reported an arrest of a young man with autism (possibly Aspergers) for possession of child pornography in Stafford County, VA.  The young man was first contacted by the sheriff in the early spring of 2015 but his grandparents thought the charges would be dropped.  But recently he spent four days in jail, in jeopardy because of autism, after an indictment.
The young man is 27.

NBC4 has not yet put the story online.  I’ll provide the link when available.  I won’t give the name of the person (for search engines to find) since the person has not been convicted and the situation seems so questionable.  NBC4 says it is unusual for grandparents or relatives to be forthcoming about an arrest, but this one might not be justifiable and may be overkill.   The defense attorney could consider contacting Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The incident happened when the young man downloaded the c.p. through a peer-to-peer app.  It is not clear how the content was detected.  It may have been flagged by an automated procedure checking for images on a NCMEC database.  It might be possible that it was detected in the Cloud.  But it is critical that the public know how the images (apparently 52 of them) were detected. It is not completely clear if the young man knew they were illegal or even saw them when they arrived on his computer, or whether any malware could have been involved.   This is a very troubling case.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Questionable FBI search motivated by espionage concerns leads to child porn conviction

It is possible for law enforcement, especially federal, to search premises without warrants or less 4th Amendment protection than usual, for terrorism or espionage related evidence, and then prosecute someone for “ordinary” domestic crimes, especially child pornography.

Ellen Nakashima reports on the front page of the Washington Post, Wednesday April 6, 2016, “Spy probe morphed into child porn case

The narrative started in Feb, 2013 when the FBI questioned a California  Boeing employee Keith Gartenlaub about a mystery email apparently indicating Chinese espionage that he knew nothing about (his wife is Chinese).  Gartenlaub suspected nothing involving him when he heard about the arrest of a Chinese businessman sixteen months later, in June 2014. But in January 2014, while he and his wife were in Shanghai, the FBI surreptitiously searched him home.  In August, he was arrested for supposed child pornography found on home computers or hard or thumb drives. He was convicted of a possession offense in December 2015 and still awaits sentencing, for possibly up to ten years.

The circumstances suggest that the c.p. was never downloaded but could have been planted or copied deliberately. There would be obvious questions about whether he was framed, either by the government or maybe the Chinese, maybe by a burglar, or maybe by malware.

But the article focused on whether the Fourth Amendment was violated.

But the question of criminal liability for possession of material one does not know about is still troubling.  Possession is rarely treated as an “absolute liability” offense as it used to be;  usually there is some element of mens rea, and defense will often try to show evidence of malware or criminal activity by others.  This is a particularly disturbing incident.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Time article claims that young men will develop dysfunction from porn addiction; Britain ponders a "COPA" law

Time magazine has a cover story “Pornography and its threat to virility”, here online (paywall), and in print, in the Aoril 11, 2016 issue, p. 40, with tagline “Why young men who grew up with Internet porn are becoming advocates of turning it off.” Time had a story on porn in April 1976, “The Porno Plague”.

The basic report concerns young men becoming impotent or unable to have erections in real sex with women after porn addiction. There may even be physical changes in the brain when teens or younger men get used to porn.

So one can even imagine that porn addiction lowers the birth rate.

There is a law being proposed in Britain that would have resembled COPA in the United States, and lawmakers have not considered how adult-id verification could be very reliable.

Back in 1986, I recall a religious tract at LAX airport that stated that people who become satiated with porn will no longer be able to have “real” marital sex.

But in earlier generations, one concern that straight men living around men they knew were gay, in college dorms (before Stonewall) wasn’t being “approached” but merely that being “scoped” could make them self-conscious and unable to perform heterosexually when the time came.  This was a hidden concern with the military in the early years of “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell”.

Update: April 10

The Washington Post reinforced this idea today with an article by Gail Dines, maintaining that porn is a public health problem.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Villanova professor held on c.p. charges after use on a public computer, complicated circumstances

A Villanova University (Pennsylvania) history professor has been suspended and arrested on now up to 415 federal counts of possession of child pornography. The federal investigation was triggered when university police noticed visits to child porn sites from a public computer on campus.  It is likely that the sites were overseas, and somehow got past the university anti-virus and site filters.  Once in a cache, the legal offence of possession has occurred. A subsequent warrant and investigation showed images at home.
The CNN story is here.  But the included video says he had been investigated for possession at home in 2012.  It was not clear what had triggered the investigation (maybe the NCMEC database). He may have thought it “safer” to use a public computer.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

SC teacher loses job when student steals her phone with private pictures from an unlocked desk

A teacher in Union County, SC was forced to resign after 13 years of service after a male student stole her cell phone from her desk and circulated risqué pictures of her to others and on social media.  Think Progress has the story here.

She was punished rather than the student, for not locking the phone up.  But she was greeting students, as teachers are supposed to do, at the beginning of the class.  When I worked as a sub, we were supposed to do that, but I usually didn’t.  It seems gratuitous.

Some reports say she could even be prosecuted for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. That sounds like what could happen if you left nude pictures in your car and didn't lock it.  That almost created an incident in 2005 when I was subbing.
Again, a new watermark in expectations to protect minors.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Apple-FBI debate has a bearing on child pornography apprehensions

One if the byproducts of the Apple-FBI decryption legal debate is the understanding that the government probably would not be able to decrypt hardened encryption used to hide other crimes, which would include production and distribution of child pornography.

The normal retort in the past would have been “get a warrant”, but Apple is maintaining that the mere existence of such decryption software, outside a military environment, would make everyone less secure against very determined criminals and enemies, so if should not be used for “ordinary” crime, even when socially repugnant or with minor victims. 

It might be possible to imagine the government’s adopting a “Minority Report” scheme to predict the likelihood that crimes against children are going to appear, by scanning the cloud or browsing habits with various kinds of algorithms.  Give the tone of the current debate, this possibility seems even less likely.  But some consumer use of material that is technically legal might be illegal out of context, if done for even remotely prurient interests.
It should be noted that other countries are trying to force decryption to apprehend child pornography, as reported in a story on the International Issues blog today about Brazil. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

New Mexico considers legalizing consensual sexting among minors over 14

The New Mexico legislature has passed a bill making “sexting” or sharing nude photos between age 14 and 17 as long as it is consensual.  KOAT has the story here. The governor has to sign by March 9.
The bill would stiffen penalties for other child porn offenses.

Legislators expressed the view that minors should not have child pornography offenses on their records, although it sounds possible that misdemeanor of school discipline  could be appropriate.

Critics of the bill point out that sexting among minors still violates federal law, even though it is almost always states that enforce them.  The public seems evenly divided on the issue.

Wikipedia attribution link for Chaco Canyon picture, public domain

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Recalling the CDA blackout 20 years ago; the CDA preceded COPA

Today, Electronic Frontier Foundation commemorates (in a piece by Cindy Cohn) the Web’s First Blackout (long before Aaron Swartz) in opposing the 1996 Communications Decency Act, signed by Bill Clinton.  The “censorship” part was struck down by the Supreme Court in June 1997, and I actually went to the oral arguments on March 19, 1997 (in a late season snow). But another portion of the act provided downstream liability protection to providers through Section 230, which is critical to the Internet as we know it today.

The successor to the CDA, or “son of CDA”, would be COPA, the Child Online Protection Act of 1998, well documented on this specific blog, which was very active during the trail in Philadelphia in the fall of 2006. Knowing history is important.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Teen charged as adult with possessing c.p. of himself at 16

In Cumberland County, NC (Fayetteville), a 17 year old is facing being tried as an adult (over 16) for child pornography possession (stemming from sexting), comprising images of himself at age 16.  In North Carolina, you can be charged as an adult at 16, but it is illegal to possess pornographic images of anyone under 18, even if that is the self.  Reason Magazine has a story about the Kalfa-esque Catch 22 by Robby Soave here, on his “Hit and Run” blog.

Fusion has the story by Danielle Wiener-Bronner here. It appears both the female and male are being charged.

Theoretically, in North Carolina at least, an adult could be charged for possessing nude baby pictures or film taken of him by his parents, in a different era when there was no conceivable criminal intent, unless mens rea is invoked. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

Canada and Australia have very strict laws on artificial c.p.

Kristen V. Brown has a disturbing story on Fusion, “Should this man go to prison for buying a child sex doll?” The case occurred in Canada, as a violation of Law 163.1;  the man was arrested after the item was delivered from Japan even though border agents had seen it.  Canada and Australia have very draconian laws on even simulated child pornography.

The article explains how, in the U.S.,  the Supreme Court overruled the 1996 CPPA and how Congress tried to end-around it in 2002 with the Protect Act.

The article also explains that pedophilia is considered a disorder in the DSM, but language calling it a “sexual orientation” was reversed.

There is real debate as to whether simulated c.p. (dolls) acts like “methadone” and prevents real offenses or makes them more likely, as explained in this Atlantic article by Roc Morin, Jan 11. 2016.

Monday, January 25, 2016

GOP in Congress wants to narrow federal law enforcement of "strict liability standards", might protect users from frivolous prosecution of c.p. from malware

Bob Goodlatte (Rep, R-VA) and Orrin Hatch (Sen, U-UT) provide an important column in Politico, “Protecting citizens from obscure laws”, p. 19, Jan. 20, 2016,

The column explains a new bill that specifies that, when a federal law doesn’t stipulate a clear requirement of criminal intent (“mens rea”) to convict someone of a federal crime, that standard will be understood as a default.  Only when Congress specifically says that something is a “strict liability offense” will it be so.
The idea can matter in child pornography possession prosecutions.  About ten years ago, some legal writers characterized possession of child pornography as a “strict liability” offense, and there was a notorious case in Arizona (Internet safety blog, Feb. 3 and 23, 2007; Nov. 11, 2009).  In more recent years, commentators report that prosecutors will consider the possibility that it could have been planted by malware or hackers (or breaking into a router).  But I don’t recall an explicit statement on whether federal law still could regard mere possession of c.p. by a home users as a strict liability offense when accidentally discovered (as by a computer repair tech, who can be forced to report it in many states). I wrote a bit about this in the summer of 2013.  Some moralists see the harm to children so egregious that they think all “amateur” uses “owe it” to parents to take extraordinary precautions to ensure they are not hacked.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

FBI ran a child porn website after seizing to conduct a sting of users

Brad Heath, of USA Today, reports that the “FBI ran website sharing thousands of child porn images”  The site, called “Playpen”, was on the dark web and usually accessed through TOR.  The FBI had seized it in the late winter of 2015, and operated it for about 13 days, in order to find users to prosecute.  Apparently at least 25 people will face charged (although there may have been 100,000 visitors while the site was under FBI control).

Of course, this sounds like “entrapment”, and is like distributing heroin in a bad neighborhood to catch low-level addicts, as the story says.

Apparently the site was not accessible through the normal public web.  But it sets up the idea that someone could be framed.

This is apparently not the first time the FBI has run this kind of sting.

The Washington Post has a detailed account of this matter by Ellen Nakashima.

Vox also reported the story today.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

What if you get an "illegal" image or video with an unsolicited text message (from a stranger)?

Friday night, New Year’s Day, I received an unexpected text with a video (15 seconds) from a phone number with area code for Brooklyn, New York.

The video appears to be a dinner scene at a Vietnamese restaurant and is in Vietnamese language, and so it was probably sent to a wrong number.  I know some people in Brooklyn, especially in the music world, but this seems unrelated.

Nevertheless, it raises a good question.  What are your legal obligations if you got a video from an unsolicited text and it contained child pornography or, for that matter, a terror threat?

The same question of course exists with spam (or for that matter opening a tiny url link on a tweet perhaps).  But with spam email, you probably won’t open the email at all if it looks “suspicious”, so the possibility of inadvertent illegal “possession” doesn’t come about.