Child Pornography on the Web - Downloading, viewing and the law

With the recent arrest of Peter Townshend of "The Who" in the UK the issue of legalities surrounding child porn have once again come to the attention of the media. According to CNN Townshend was arrested at his home in London on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children, suspicion of making indecent images of children and suspicion of incitement to distribute indecent images of children, Scotland Yard said.

In a statement last weekend, Townshend acknowledged visiting a Web site advertising child pornography. He said he was not a pedophile and had used the site only once, as research for an autobiography dealing with his own suspected childhood sexual abuse.

According to The Home Office in Britain the law is the following:

Section 160 of The Criminal Justice Act of 1988 made the simple possession of indecent photographs of children an offence. This is a Serious Arrestable Offence carrying a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. Note: The term "make" includes downloading images from the Internet and storing or printing them out. R v Bowden (J) 1999.

This does not mean that anyone that accidentally receives Child Pornography e-mailed to them and does not download it, copy or print, but deletes immediately will get a knock on their door.

A recent case in California shows how using the excuse of curiosity etc. is not a valid reason to possess Child Pornography. David Westerfield convicted of murdering Danielle Van Dam and possession of Child Pornography tried very hard to excuse his possession of illegal material by stating "I was just trying to see what was available on the Internet for downloading without having to pay for it with a credit card." Police found many pictures of Child Pornography not only on his computer but copied to disks and CD's.

One in particular was played for the jury in the guilt phase of his trial. It was a video he had burned to compact disc of a young girl being held down and raped. The fact that he took the time to not only download this video to his computer, but then to burn it to CD shows his intent to possess and/or distribute Child Pornography. Although it is not illegal in the United States at this time to view it, in United Kingdom and in Canada seeking it out to view is included in the laws as an indictable offence.

David Westerfield was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death January 3rd of this year.

Is there ever a good reason to be viewing and downloading Child Porn? I personally feel that unless one is working for law enforcement or an organization such as ours that traces the URLs of illegal sites for reporting there is no amount of curiosity that would justify downloading it. Our members of the Child Exploitation team NEVER download images they trace. They are never copied to disk or printed or stored in any way. The purpose is to identify first that the URL is actually showing illegal material. Many times we get reports of sites that people find morally offensive, but there is a big difference between immoral and illegal. Sending law enforcement immoral site URLs will just waste their valuable time that could be better sent shutting down the illegal sites.

After the site is confirmed to contain illegal material it is traced to see where the site is housed. Often they are housed on servers in countries outside North America. Making the removal of the site and prosecution of the individuals much more difficult. This trace is then reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency, again who that is depends on where the site is housed. Our Child Exploitation team is hand picked by Calypso, and extremely well trained. There are very strict rules on investigating site URL's and any member found not to be following them is terminated immediately. They are a very elite group of exceptional volunteers that have one of the most difficult jobs in this organization. We are extremely proud of Calypso and her team and feel very lucky to have such quality volunteers working with us.

It will be interesting to see how Mr. Townshend's case turns out. There have been over 1300 arrests made in this sweep in the UK, including some 50 police officers. I hope for his sake and those close to him that he is telling the truth concerning his activities. If he is not then he deserves whatever punishment he gets. Famous or not, there is never an excuse for abusing children or contributing to the abuse of children.

Kelley Beatty
Deputy Executive Director
WiredSafety Group

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February 18th 2003
Reproduced courtesy of the WiredSafety Editorial Database: http://www.wiredsafety.org/resources/editorial/
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