Thursday, May 13, 2004

More on the "Jack" Pornography Case

Via The Register, I've just come across the above article, which provides more details about the Wired browser-hijacking issue I mentioned previously. If the story laid out by Brian Rothery is accurate, this "Jack" fellow really does seem to have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice, a poor sap victimized by a vindictive employer and overzealous law-enforcement agents.

Our two UK experts have now helped to establish the following. The arrest warrant used to raid Jack’s house contained a list of nudist web sites, mainly Russian and Eastern European, none of the models from which were engaged in sex acts. There was a separate single image of a sex act in which the girl had small breasts, which was the only basis for assuming that she was under 18. These images on the search were not however used as a basis for the charges and conviction. Before leaving them, however, readers might be interested to know that our UK expert recognized many of the nudist URLs as those being used in arrests and convictions in the UK, so these naturist sites, while not the reason for Jack’s conviction, are being used in the UK for arrest and conviction.

In Jack’s criminal complaint report the police used 60 pictures from unallocated clusters. Twelve of these were recovered from his personal laptop, bought secondhand from Ebay, and forty-eight were recovered from the Mitsubishi laptop. Some of them were tiny. The prosecutors said that there were twelve images from a well-known child porn series, created before computer generated porn was possible. Apparently, sixty images were from 1940s porn magazines, scanned into a computer, none full size. Interestingly, the main proof used that the Mitsubishi laptop was his was his job resume found on the hard drive.

Returning to the URLs in the search warrant, some warnings. Some images, such as those in the Russian naturist site ‘Holy Nature’ are also in books available on Amazon, so what may appear legal in a book may not be deemed legal if accessed over the Internet. The other URLs had ‘lolita’ or ‘preteen’ or ‘angels’ or similar in the titles. [This is standard operating practice with porn site operators - these and words like "amateur" and "XXX" are bound to come up on even the most vanilla sites.] Some also had indications that they were Eastern European or Russian. [And therefore illegal by definition?] What may be dangerous for viewers is that all of the sites in question had a disclaimer saying that they are legal under Federal Code 18. One of our UK experts expressed the opinion that on the face of it this appeared to be entirely reasonable, given the wholesome nature of the images, but these were both on Jack’s warrant and are being used for prosecution in the UK, where it seems that nudity now equals indecency.

Both The Register and the Rothery article make the same point I did about the implications of the recovered images being found in unallocated disk space, i.e, there aren't any. I can't avoid the conclusion that the Wired "experts" quoted had simply proceeded on the all-too-common assumption that the mere fact of being accused of a sex crime is evidence in itself of one's guilt, and then struck out for some way to rationalize this gut assumption.

I have no time for those who are actually guilty of sex crimes against children (or adults, for that matter), and I think it's a waste of effort to try to "reform" individuals who've been caught molesting children - forget the psycho-babble, I say, and just lock them up and throw away the key. Having said that much, I do think there's an atmosphere of hysteria at work across much of the English-speaking world where these sorts of crimes are concerned, and that politicians, in an effort to avoid accusations of "coddling" perverts, have set into motion a great deal of poorly thought out administrative and legislative machinery that is now being used to destroy the lives of ordinary people who are entirely without guilt. Those who engage in sex with children are depraved animals, but how sensible is it really to criminalize the (often merely alleged) viewing of images, especially when there are people out there doing their damndest to push such images in one's face?

It is a fact that there are money-hungry vermin out there pushing adverts for l0l1ta* and h3nta1* sites into everyone's inboxes and browsers, and even those of us who are technically skilled enough to protect ourselves can't always do so, especially if we work for employers whose IT policies demand the use of Internet Explorer and Microsoft Outlook, with all alternatives verboten. As such, this issue isn't one most of us can tell ourselves is of no personal concern and worth pushing aside. One never knows when some adversary might decide to plant "evidence" on one's person for whatever reason. Along these lines, I am reminded of Cardinal Richelieu's supposed statement, which went "If you give me six lines written by the most honest man, I will find something in them to hang him"; for the Internet age, perhaps we ought to update this to "If you give me six months of the browsing history of the most upstanding citizen, I will find enough evidence in there to get that person a sentence of life without parole."

*These words have been altered from the original post in order to avoid an influx of unwelcome visitors. I'm not interested in competing for an entry in "Disturbing Search Requests" ...