Oops! You’re not a child pornographer after all.

Righteousness is one thing, competence a whole other.

DHS "SEIZED" screen

Homeland Security done goofed.

Beware of moral absolutes. For example: there’s not much room for debate in the war on child porn; we all agree that the stuff is atrocious and must be snuffed out. So we hand over extraordinary powers to those who would fight it. But righteousness and competence are two different things.

Case in point:

Last week the U.S. Department of Homeland Security proudly announced that they had “seized” thousands of child porn websites. Visitors to the sites now found stern government message screens reading “SEIZED” and warning that “Advertisement, distribution, transportation, receipt, and possession of child pornography constitute federal crimes that carry penalties for first time offenders of up to 30 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution” (link).

It was later revealed that the DHS had goofed—84,000 of these sites were seized by accident, and had nothing whatsoever to do with child porn. Given the special place in hell we reserve for child pornographers, one wonders what the innocent owners of those websites thought about being publicly associated with kiddie porn on their own homepages.

It’s not the first blunder (or questionable outcome) in the global crusade against child porn. Here are a few others:

  • Parents charged with child porn for taking bathtub pics of their own kids. Walmart turned them in when they went to have the shots developed, and their kids were taken from them by Child Protective Services. The parents have since sued (link).
  • Minors charged with child porn for texting nude pictures of themselves. It’s happened a bunch of times. (link) (link) (link).
  • Australia’s national Internet filter was sold to citizens as a safeguard against child porn. But the “blacklist” of censored sites got leaked, and was shown to include many errors, including a dog kennel and a dentist. Also on the list were political enemies of the government, and Wikileaks. Not to mention the problem that a leaked index of child porn sites is a handy resource for none other than child pornographers. (link)

While many innocents can have their lives and reputations ruined by over-zealous law enforcement, actual for-profit child pornographers have had plenty of success evading authorities and Internet filters. The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin reports that savvy criminals use a combination of proxy servers, encryption, and foreign computer servers to place themselves out of the reach of the law. Facing a tangle of technological and bureaucratic hurdles (extradition, etc.) police often skip the big bad guys and focus on low-hanging fruit (link).


Oops! You’re not a child pornographer after all.

  1. This kind of thing is all to common. Teachers never hug students anymore because they don't want to be seen as being perverts; parents are afraid to grab their children in public lest they be accused of physical abuse. Meanwhile, the real abusers (sexual and physical) are so manipulative and devious that they carry on their destructive behaviors without ever getting caught.

  2. A friend of mine told me this story: one of her best friends went through a messy relationship break up. Of course there were all the usual results: angry phone calls, missing personal items and terrific ill will. The best friend's brother is and was a cop. As a means of retribution he placed the ex-boyfriend on a list of possible child sex offenders. Whenever an incident was reported, this guy would get hauled down to the station for questioning. Nice, eh?

    I find it mildly irritating that the police work on computers pretending to be 13 year old girls, engaging men in conversation, then agreeing to meet at a motel whereupon they bust the guy for "internet luring." In the good old days that was considered entrapment. But today, because of the "we'll stop at nothing" attitude regarding child sexual anything, everyone just shrugs it off.

    Remember the alleged Satanist cults of the late 80's and 90's? The RCMP toured the country in numbers to warn everyone about these cults and their depraved rituals. I'm not saying there isn't child porn, and I'm certainly not saying that offenders shouldn't be prosecuted – they're the lowest of the low, by any standard. I'm just talking about pendulums swinging and the tendency of the police to be oh, a little zealous.

    • I have no problem w/ police pretending to be young children in order to catch pedophiles, as long as the on-line conversations are properly supervised to prevent over-zealousness.

  3. "police often skip the big bad guys and focus on low-hanging fruit"

    No doubt! I suspect that the worst of the worst child-porn offenders probably learned very quickly to avoid the internet completely. I suspect it's much safer, and basically just as easy to package a DVD and FedEx it to it's recipient.

    By targeting internet child-pornographers, I suspect that the consumers of such material are getting caught more often, but I doubt that stemmed the production much, if at all.

    But law enforcement will continue to do this, because it's a high-profile way of showing that they're "doing something" about the problem, with little to no work involved on their part. And governments will continue to condone it for political reasons, and they'll accept any reason to try to regulate the internet.

  4. god damn cops in this country. Stop focusing on the small fish and go after the damn real criminals who embezzle and gouge money out of us.

    • That would be Rogers/Bell?

  5. Barbara Amiel wrote an article titled “Hysteria may well create the truly dangerous pedophile” and expressed concern that "minor offenders are pushed to more extreme measures to avoid capture, since they are already so thoroughly stigmatized they feel irredeemable"; she also wrote about a similar craziness that erupted over Polanksi.
    Thankfully Jesse Brown has taken up this torch and is carrying it well.

  6. Uh… I did stupid things when I was a teenager, and took some webcam photos that I shouldn't have. They're still kicking around somewhere I bet. Could I be arrested for possession of child pornography if someone found them? :S

  7. Yes it has become ridiculous what is seen as abuse surely violent and aggressive behavior towards children is bad as is less ext ream behavior towards older children but some common sense would be nice, I think we all need to be more willing to speak up and ask questions when we see things. Some people feel awkward confronting others but it needs to be done, part of the problem in large cities like here in Vancouver is a lack of familiarity with your fellow humans.

  8. I would love to see a class action suite against the government by those whose sites were "seized" to be falsely portrayed as purveyors of child porn.

    • @s_c_f, I would love to see the same thing. Unfortunately, unless the falsely accused have tremendous resources, they cannot hope to stand up to the unlimited power of the federal government.

      Our only hope is a healthy dose of Libertarianism into the body politic.

  9. "A major federal investigation has found that dozens of military officials and defense contractors, including some with top-level security clearances, allegedly bought and downloaded child pornography on private or government computers."

    For those that are interested, former FBI profiler Ted Gunderson is an active investigator of child pornography (and far worse abuses) among individuals and groups that are certainly not of the "low hanging fruit" variety.

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