I Can See…

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Tim: The impression I had was not that British law banned viewing child pornography under any circumstances, but that it had such a ban on downloading it. Do private citizens get to escape that rule too, if they have a "legitimate" reason for their actions?

Update: I did some digging. Downloading a photograph, by any definition of the term "downloading," is considered equivalent to making a photograph. Simple possession of such photos is also illegal, and has been since 1988.

There is an exception for "legitimate" or accidental possession of child pornography, but the courts are extremely skeptical and almost never accept this defense.

The state of the law is outlined here (on a site for "naturist" photographers). The most recent revisions to Britain's child porn rules are laid out here and summarized here.

NEXT: Pete's Outbox

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  1. Um…how exactly would you view an image online *without* downloading it? It’s my understanding that the law bans storing the stuff in a non-transitory form on your own storage device.

  2. Yes, that’s what I mean. Sorry. “Downloading” as in saving a permanent file.

  3. Jeez! Didn’t the Constitution mention explicitly that we were assured life, liberty, and the pursuit of school children? I bet President George III is spinning in his mosoleum about now!

  4. Running the risk of getting on some watch list, I offer my observations on the child porn crusade:
    It seems tailor-made for some dubious law enforcement tactics: The citizens are by law forbidden to see any of it and to make up their own mind. We all have to take the authorities’ word for it. The alarmist language commonly used in press releases, blurbs and media stories makes me personally suspicious of their complete veracity. It is clear that mind control, not protection of children, is the goal of the crusaders. Hence Mr. Ashcroft’s insistence that even images not produced using real persons must be illegal to possess. As regards the presence of inadvertently obtained images on one’s computer, I bet most people don’t even know that and where they are being stored. Couple this with commonly used forensic methods to prove the prior existence of deleted files and a totally innocent person may find themselves in more trouble than they ever imagined possible. It is time the this issue is dealt with is publicly debated. Haven’t we learned anything from the 1990’s ritual child abuse miscarriages of justice?

  5. To Anon. – I only know computers 🙂 Not the law. I was hoping someone else would carry the ball. I only wanted to imply that due to the nature of the internet, it’s simply not possible to determine the intent of someone who has pictures stored on their computer’s hard drive. For example, even if it were ruled that you cannot be prosecuted for pictures stored in your browser’s cache, there would be nothing stopping me from deliberately storing pornography there. By this logic, you should be prosecuted for any pornography that appears anywhere on your computer–whether accidentally downloaded or not. Some interesting scenarios follow from this. Imagine sending an email with some porn attached to one of your enemies and then calling the police. Or imagine suing Microsoft for providing a cache in Internet Explorer in the first place.

  6. For clarification, it only has to show up on your computer. There was an article on it on wired.com, about a police officer that got nabbed in a child porn sting. They found 300 deleted files in his internet cache, none in the rest of the computer and he was prosecuted based on this.
    A friend of mine is a police detective that works on these kind of cases, and he told me it would be unlikely for someone to ever be prosecuted based on an accidental download of child porn, but in this case where the guy had that many photos it’s hard to assume innocense. Still, with that simple a definition of a crime there’s bound to be some abuses and some innocent people caught up in this at some point.

  7. Actually, every image that pops up on a web page is stored *permanently* on your computer, unless and until you clear your browser’s cache. Only when you reach the limit of your cache (typically, several hundred megabytes, i.e. thousands of pictures’ worth) do the older pix go away. This is the default behavior that probably 99% of all users do not bother to change.

  8. Rhywun – do you know whether the law treats that any differently than it does files saved deliberately? (More to the point, does it treat it any differently in Britain?)

  9. RE: Porn free, free as the wind blows…

    Man, that Ashcroft guy is whack… What kind of legacy are we leaving our grandchildren if not their own nude photos?

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