Feeds

Child porn in the age of teenage 'sexting'

Two cases show right, wrong way to prosecute

Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet

Analysis An international child pornography ring that traded more than 400,000 illegal images and videos - some depicting pre-pubescent children in sexual and sadistic acts - is the kind of heinous behavior that makes you glad there are strict laws against such things. Seven US men were convicted of the crime on Wednesday.

Then there are the miscarriages of such laws, like the charging this week of six Pennsylvania teens alleged to have sent and received nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves on cell phones. It's the kind of case overzealous prosecutors have begun bringing with alarming frequency over the past year or two.

There's a stark difference between the two sorts of crimes. The first represent the almost unspeakable depravity of adult monsters who prey on the utterly defenseless. The latter threaten to brand individuals who have yet to reach the age of 18 as sex offenders for indiscretions that are largely victimless.

To recap, the seven men were convicted by a federal jury in Florida after being accused of participating in a well-organized enterprise that used internet newsgroups to proliferate child sex abuse images to its membership over a two-year period. Participants used a complex system of pseudonyms, encryption methods, and screening tests for new members to conceal their conspiracy.

The members operated with a brazenness that was shocking. "My thanks to you and all the others that together make this the greatest group of pedos to ever gather in one place," one of the convicted men wrote in a posting to other participants, according to court documents. A posting from another participant, also cited in documents, read: "Thanks to all for the wonderful material that has been posted."

Each convicted man faces a minimum prison sentence of 20 years and a maximum of life. And rightfully so.

Now compare that to case filed against six students from Greensburg-Salem High School in Western Pennsylvania. Three girls ages 14 and 15 are accused of taking nude or semi-nude self-portraits of themselves and sending them using their cell phones to three boys, ages 16 and 17. If convicted of manufacturing, disseminating, or possessing child pornography (the girls) or sexual abuse of a child (the boys) they will likely have to register as sex offenders and could also face incarceration. That amounts to a scarlet letter that will follow them for the rest of their lives.

The proliferation of cell phones means it's easier than ever for teens (and everyone else) to photograph themselves in various states of undress and zap the images all over the place in the wink of an eye. No wonder one national survey, cited here, found that 20 percent of teens have admitted to "sexting."

If the point of tough child pornography laws is to protect vulnerable kids against predatory creeps, where's the sense in using those same statutes to go after juveniles who naively, if misguidedly, take nude photos of themselves and send them to others? Modern technology has given kids an unprecedented ability to become photographers and publishers. Prosecutors who don't wake up to this new reality risk branding victims as predators. ®

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

More from The Register

next story
Brit telcos warn Scots that voting Yes could lead to HEFTY bills
BT and Co: Independence vote likely to mean 'increased costs'
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Turnbull: NBN won't turn your town into Silicon Valley
'People have been brainwashed to believe that their world will be changed forever if they get FTTP'
Blockbuster book lays out the first 20 years of the Smartphone Wars
Symbian's David Wood bares all. Not for the faint hearted
Bonking with Apple has POUNDED mobe operators' wallets
... into submission. Weve squeals, ditches payment plans
ISPs' post-net-neutrality world is built on 'bribes' says Tim Berners-Lee
Father of the worldwide web is extremely peeved over pay-per-packet-type plans
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.