According to reports published by the United States Federal Government, in the mid-1980s, trafficking of child-pornography within the United States was nearly eradicated through successful campaigns by federal and state authorities.
In the 1980’s, producing child pornography was difficult and expensive, however, with the advent of computers and the internet, child pornography has become easier to acquire, reproduce and store.
Digital cameras and the ease in which images and movies can be posted on the internet, combined with a world wide web which has no borders, has made it easy for distributors and collectors of child pornography to obtain the illegal photographs and videos. Although most people have some knowledge about the vast amount of pornography located on the internet, The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has estimated that 20% of all internet pornography involves children.
Legally speaking, 20% of the pornography located on the internet is illegal to possess in the United States.
As a result of the increase in the availability of child-pornography, federal and state convictions for crimes related to child-pornography has increased. Recently, the United States Department of Justice announced a national strategy for eliminating child pornography. The effort includes nationalized databases allowing states to share information and the hiring of 38 assistant U.S. Attorneys across the United States to prosecute child pornography crimes.
A person must merely open a newspaper or watch the television to find a news article or picture of a person whose name and reputation is ruined by state or federal charges related to possession of child pornography.
Instead of focusing on the people producing child pornography, efforts have shifted and law enforcement is now targeting people who possess child pornography. In order to help prosecute regular citizens, the federal government has partnered with internet search engines to find people searching for, downloading and possessing child pornography.
Computer crimes are not limited to simply possession or distribution of child pornography.
Many people have seen television shows where law enforcement uses a computer to lure unsuspecting people into illegal situations (e.g., NBC’s documentary, To Catch a Predator, etc.).
In such situations, a law enforcement officer poses as a minor and lures a unsuspecting person to a location; the location is usually portrayed as the minor’s home. When the unlucky person arrives at the minor’s home, television cameras record the subsequent conversation between the surprised adult and law enforcement.
Sometimes, the unlucky person believes (or hopes) he or she may be able to “talk their way out” of a potential arrest; however, the statements made by the person is recorded and likely used by a prosecutor as the basis for a criminal prosecution.
In short, sex crimes, internet crimes and computer crimes are a primary focus of state and federal law enforcement throughout the country.
Examination of the Computer
In any case involving a computer, it is critical to use a computer expert in any child pornography case. The use of such experts can help establish a defense to the crime by showing some of the following:
• When an illegal file was downloaded;
• Which computer program was used to download an illegal file;
• Which computer user downloaded an illegal file;
• Whether the illegal file was placed on the computer as a result of a computer virus;
• Whether the illegal file was placed on the computer by somebody “hacking” into an unsuspecting user’s computer, and;
• Whether the people portrayed in the images and/or movies are actually “children” or models above the legal age of consent who are “posing” as a minor.
Unfortunately, most attorneys do not have sufficient knowledge about computer technology to even consider the use of computer experts. Most attorneys without sufficient computer background simply believe that if child pornography is found on a computer, the person is “guilty”.
Examples of Common Situations
Throughout the United States, prosecutors can file variety of different charges against a person for using a computer for what may appear to be legal activities.