back to article US court says just viewing child porn is not a crime

A US court has said the existence of child pornography images in the cache of a man's computer did not mean that man had committed a crime under state law. The Court of Appeals in Georgia has reversed the man's conviction. A forensic computer analyst for the US Secret Service had testified in court that Edward Ray Barton's …

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  1. John Imrie

    How to view Cache files.

    Oh boy,

    Well the Judge was right. You do need some specialised software to view the web browsers cached files. It's called a web browser.

    What does this Judge thik he's doing. If its in the Cache file then it was downloaded from the Net by the browser.

  2. Klaus

    One Question about the UK Law

    So if you had a grudge against a co-worker/boss etc. in the UK, could you simply send them a link that you know would display child porn images, and then have them arrested? Even if they had no intention of ever viewing such images?

    I don't understand how looking at an image is a crime, a person can't help what is put before their eyes. The act of searching out child porn required intent however, and makes more sense as a crime....

  3. Steve Sutton

    One Question about the UK Law ... continued

    Klaus, you could go one better. If you can h4xx0r some kiddy porn onto google, bbc news, and el reg, you'd get pretty much every net user in the UK!

    btw, how do 'they' know that what you are looking at is kiddie porn, without actually looking at it and thus committing an offence themself?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Klaus

    As I understand it - if someone were to send you a link to some child porn, it would not be a criminal offence for you to view it, unless you should have been able to infer what the images were going to be before you clicked the link and even then a conviction would be unlikely. It would, however, be a criminal offence not to report the incident as the person sending you the link would be disseminating child porn and would get into serious trouble.

    In UK law, knowing that a crime has taken place and not reporting it, is also a crime.

  5. Luke Wells

    Is the UK law right?

    Now I do believe that everything that can be done to catch paedophiles should be done, and when they are found, they should be burnt at the stake. However I think we should be careful with what constitutes evidence.

    Have you ever looked in your internet cache? Have a look now, look at all those images and banner adverts that you probably don't remember seeing. All sorts of images can be stored in there that you don't remember seeing or didnt see. It is quite possible to construct a website with an image, that is cached, but you dont see it for various reasons (hidden, other items overlayed over the top, set to zero size etc) the files will still be cached, that doesn't make someone guilty does it?

    What happens if there is a trojan on your computer, and it is being used by some rouge as a fileshare? That doesn't make you a criminal (stupid yes.... for not taking steps to protect your computer..... but still not a criminal)

    I just think we need to be careful. Could you imagine how life destroying it would be to be wrongly accused of being a paedophile? or any other type of criminal for that matter based on files in your internet cache.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    reply to Klaus

    In theory, it's possible, if the images are on a PC in some viewable graphic format, and can thus be viewed by a user. The images in the cache are just jpeg's (or whetever format was sent) aren't they? Not sure how "I never intended to look at them" would stand up, and mere possession is enough, according to the letter of the law:

    The Sexual Offences Act 2003 :

    It is now a crime to take, make, permit to take, distribute, show, possess, possess with intent to distribute, or to advertise indecent photographs or pseudophotographs of any person below the age of 18.

    Not knowing anything about the downloaded images would be a defence (I would assume), but it would be tricky to prove, as even accidentally you've still clicked on something.

  7. Steven Knox

    RE: Cache Files

    "If its in the Cache file then it was downloaded from the Net by the browser."

    That is most likely true*. However, it does not mean that it was ever displayed by the browser. There are numerous ways to link an image or other file to a web page so that it is downloaded into the cache without ever being displayed.

    * It could also have been placed there by the user, or by any application running on the machine which can gain write access to the cache folder. The mere existence of a file anywhere on a user's PC is not a reliable indication that the user either knew of the file or intended to download it.

    I agree with Klaus -- it is the intentional act of seeking out such images which is the real crime, and a much more reliable piece of evidence would be a history of searches and URLS typed into the address bar; particularly because these are less likely (although still possible) to be forged. Unfortunately, these are also in many cases much easier to erase.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In short "Yes"

    Luke Wells states "Could you imagine how life destroying it would be to be wrongly accused of being a paedophile?" Yes I am very sorry to say that I can, and I have been fighting it for 9 years now through all the Court system up to highest Court in UK and nearly at point I want to be. What happened ?. Long & short the warrant said "because he knows how to get on to newsgroups and because newsgroups contain illegal material he may be in possession of said illegal material" .Like saying that if I walk through Brixton I may be in possession of drugs. Nothing was there to be found and of course nothing was found, YET after that numerous event occured as retribution for my complaint .

  9. Mike Silver badge

    Tech Support Question

    So, this is a group well-versed in the ways of browsers.

    For a while (since a past "upgrade"), Firfox has helpfully offered "schoolgirls" as a completion when I start typing into the search bar, looking for Bruce Schneier's blog. I was at first taken aback, then saw the fine line that apparently divides "stuff the user actually typed" from "stuff that a lot of folks seem to end up typing when they start out with s-c-h".

    Do _all_ the police who might end up practicing computer forensics on me know this? Even if ultimately inadmissable in court, it could lead to an "accidental" night in jail and a beating or two.

    And then there are the actual typos. None incriminating so far, but annoying in a feature that was apparently intended to "speed up" entry. In the old days, such stuff was kept in more-or-less human-readable files that a session with vi (or emacs, no religious wars, please) could set right. Now they are apparently binary or might-as-well-be obfuscated-xml, and my only option when things get crufty is to delete _all_ my history. A giant step backward.

    Any Reg readers know where these files hide (FC4 and MacOS 10.3, if it matters), and have a secret decoder ring that would allow a human to examine and edit them?

  10. M Howlign

    To Steven Knox

    I agree that the search history and URLs are the best way of determining the "intentional act" but it's still possible to click on a link and end up on a website that displays something you really didn't want to see. We must all of (at sometime) clicked on an innocent looking link and ended up being presented with porn. I know I certainly have. Does that mean I was intentionally looking at porn? No, but if I keep going back there then I'm obviously intending to look at porn or something more illegal. As I understand it all ISP have the ability to track where we're going and what we're looking at. I'm sure the authorities have a list of "illegal" sites that they monitor the traffic of. They then can trace that back to the ISP and through that the user.

    Surely it would also be possible to fit filters into the ISPs equipment to detect keywords? And yes I am aware of this being "Big Brotherish" but if you don't do anything illegal what does it matter?

  11. Steven Moore

    RE:RE: Cache Files

    John, it weren't the judge what said that:

    "Those images are not readily accessible without special software which he did not have, said the Secret Service expert."

    (This "expert" must have gone to the same school that teaches that if an address is in the "Typed URL's" file, you must have typed it.)

    He's wrong on 3 counts in that sentence alone: "not readily accessible", "special software", and "did not have".

    Any file management utility can find them, like Windows Explorer.

    God save us from "experts" like these!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about the mods?

    As mod on a site, I & the other mods check all registrations - including links to future and current members web sites. The amount of porn is unbelievable. Single Clicks on seemingly innocuous links hop to hard core sites without further input. Although I soon gave up checking sites with names that suggested a porn content, I found that there are many others with names designed to attract, but hide the porn content until you get there.

    It's clear that one has to check delete these registrations, but is there some duty to report the registrations? If so to where and how. reporting the 40 or so duff registrations that we delete every day would seriously add to our unpaid, volunteer workload and would, in my case, mean that I'd probably have to resign - and if the others followed suit, that'd be the end of the site.

    What does el-reg do?

    I'm darned sure there's a wealth of porn in my cache, and I'd lay odds that some or much of it would be illegal under UK law, even if it's legal in countries that produce and supply the stuff. What happens to the mods if they're investigated - can we trust the police to listen to our case or are we going to be in for a 9 year battle as outlined earlier?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    reply to: What about the mods?

    I should add that the 9 year court battle is not because I had anything at all in my cache or anywhere else, I was simply wanting to point out the flimsiest reasons that the police will use to come and search, and then if you complain they will then try and beato you up metaphorically speaking.

  14. Graham Marsden

    FAO Luke Wells

    Luke Wells:

    > I just think we need to be careful. Could you imagine how life destroying it would be to be wrongly accused of being a paedophile? or any other type of criminal for that matter based on files in your internet cache.

    Ask the thousands who were the victims of Operation Ore. See Inquisition 21 for more details: http://www.inquisition21.com/

    As far as the Police and CPS were concerned, the merest suspicion was tantamount to guilt and grounds for perse^H^H^H^H rosecution.

    Now, in the latest Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, the Government has decided that if you take a screen capture from a film legally classified as 18 by the BBFC but, in someone's *subjective* opinion it is a "extreme image" (ie *appears* to threaten someone's life) and it is "pornographic", ie, again in someone's subjective opinion, you captured it "for sexual arousal" you have just committed a criminal offence which can get you three years in jail!

    So better check all your screen caps, folks, before you get that knock at the door...

  15. Brian Ribbon

    The UK needs to listen

    Luke, Graham,

    Being a paedophile is not a crime. Clearly you don't understanding the meaning of the term.

    Now, as regards this decision....

    Nobody should be convicted for merely viewing (known as "making," under UK law) or possessing images. The people responsible for abuse - if the image is actually abusive and not just a picture of a kid in the bath - are the people who produce the images, not the people who view.

    The UK does not realise this.

    The old argument which states, "The images are only produced because John Smith wants to view them" are not true when describing people who view child pornography *without purchase*. It's like saying that musicians create music for people to download for free from file sharing networks.

    If the UK government imposed tougher penalties for production, the people who ARE abusing children would be imprisoned.

    At the moment, you're more likely to go to jail for a conviction of "making" child pornography, than you are for a conviction of child molestation.

  16. salman ali

    re: Tech Support Question

    Mike: that sounds like the google toolbar's version of Google Suggest. While I don't know of a way to prevent it from suggesting "school girls" when you type "sch" (in fact, I'd be surprised if there was an easy way, since I believe it communicates with google servers in realtime as you type "sch" to get suggestions, at least that's what the google suggest beta did), you can disable the suggestion feature under the options for the google toolbar. It's called "suggest popular searches" under the search bar settings. As long as you leave the other option for suggesting search from your history, it'll still suggest from the list of things you actually typed in.

    That being said, I doubt you'd get in trouble with the law over having searched for school girls :) It is, after all, the most popular search on google beginning with the letters "sch" :).

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