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Child porn download case is obscene

by Jim Longworth

There are currently more than 1.3 million pornographic websites on the internet, most of which are geared to adults who want to get their jollies watching videos or looking at photos of other adults engaged in provocative acts. But according to the US Customs Service, 100,000 of those websites also offer illegal child pornography. In fact, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, more than 20,000 images of child porn are posted online each week.

And it’s a booming business. According to Internet Filter Review, child porn is a $3 billion dollar a year industry here in America.

The real problem, though, isn’t so much the kiddie porn itself, but rather the adults who view it, then act upon it. Internet Filter Review reports that over 10 percent of Americans admit to having addictions to internet sex. Meanwhile a Focus on the Family poll found that 47 percent of all families said pornography is a problem in their home. And the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers say that internet porn is a factor in two out of every three divorces. Worst of all, the US Justice department tells us that one in every five children receives unwanted sexual solicitations online, and that two in every five abductions of underaged children (ages 15-17) are due to internet contact.

It’s no wonder, then, that law enforcement both here and abroad is cracking down on predators. Last week, for example, Europol arrested 115 alleged child-sex offenders in a massive, 19-country raid which specifically targeted adults who prey on kids using the internet. Closer to home in Guilford county, Sheriff BJ Barnes and his team have done a great job of identifying and arresting these same kinds of scumbags. The problem is that internet sex offenders aren’t necessarily deterred by the threat of prison. Even if we hung a sex offender in the town square once a week, it wouldn’t, per se, “cure” or dissuade other mental defectives. On the other hand, the stiff sentencing laws we have in place cast a broad net, and can sometimes unjustly catch and punish unintended targets. That’s what happened to Matthew White.

Two years ago, the 22-year-old Sacramento resident did an online search in hopes of being able to download a “CollegeGirls Gone Wild” video. The site he landed on was Limewire.com, butinstead of opening up images of topless coeds, young Matthew foundhimself staring at naked children in sexual poses. White immediatelydeleted the site, but that’s when his troubles began. A full yearlater, FBI agents came to White’s home and accused him of traffickingin child porn.

Atfirst glance, the agents could find no evidence of Matthew’s allegedcrime, but then they used special software to retrieve all of White’sdeleted files from his hard drive. Bingo! The Limewire.com siteappeared, and so did the child porn which the young man says he hadonly momentarily viewed a year earlier. Though the FBI admitted thatMatthew would have been unable to retrieve the porn which they found,and despite his explanation of his brief and innocent encounter withillegal porn, the bureau arrested him.

Prosecutorsthen told White that he faced a 20-year prison sentence unless hepleaded guilty, in which case, he would only do three and a half years,with 10 years probation. Under the plea agreement, White would also beregistered as a sex offender once he leaves prison. White, stillprofessing his innocence, took the deal. In the meantime the CBS TVaffiliate in Sacramento and Switched.com had launched their owninvestigation of the matter, and found numerous complaints againstLimewire.com for disguising illegal child porn sites as something else,so they could lure law abiding adults into downloading something theydidn’t intend to. Confronted with this information, the FBI stated thatany time someone accidentally views child porn, they should immediatelyreport it to authorities, or else face the same fate as Matthew White.

Thereis so much wrong with this case, I scarcely know where to begin. Firstof all, I want to know how the FBI knew that a 22-year-old man with nocriminal record and no history of sex offenses accidentally clickedonto a child-porn site for less than 30 seconds. Next I want to knowwhy they waited a full year after the incident to invade White’s home.I also have a problem with the FBI’s so called “policy” of immediatelyreporting an accidental child-porn viewing. Given that they didn’tbelieve Matthew White’s story, why would anyone voluntarily turnhimself into police and risk false imprisonment. It goes without sayingthat the sentence and plea agreement in White’s case were grosslyunfair. Beyond that, the FBI has no business snooping on an Americancitizen unless their target has a history of offenses or complaintsagainst him.

Congressshould launch an immediate investigation of the Matthew White case, andget answers to some of the concerns stated above. Inherent in thatinvestigation should be a probe into Limewire.com, and a debate aboutright to privacy. I realize that the child-porn industry is fueling theaddictions and crimes of sex offenders, but we cannot deny any one’sright to view sexual material in the privacy of their own home, so longas the viewer doesn’t then make advances toward children, either viathe internet or in person.

Nodoubt kiddie porn is a bad thing, and we must prosecute sex offendersto the fullest limit of the law. But arresting someone for accidentallydownloading child pornography is, in itself, an obscene act. Speakingof which, I am reminded of the late Supreme Court Justice PotterStewart who, when asked to describe obscenity, responded, “I know itwhen I see it.” The problem is that now, the government can put you injail for not knowing it when you see it.

In other words, the Feds are doing to us the very thing we’re not supposed to be watching. Ironic, isn’t it?

JimLongworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m.on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cablechannel 15).

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