Tag: child pornography

Moral Panic and Your Privacy

Want to understand a big chunk of what Washington, D.C. does? Learn about “moral panic.”

Moral panic is a dynamic in the political and media spheres in which some threat to social order—often something taboo—causes a response that goes far beyond meeting the actual threat. It’s a socio-political stampede, if you will. You might be surprised to learn how easily stampeded your society is.

Take a look at H.R. 1981, the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011. It’s got everything: porn, children, the Internet. And it’s got everything: financial services providers dragooned into law enforcement, data retention requirements heaped on Internet service providers, expanded “administrative subpoena” authority. (Administrative subpoenas are an improvisation to accommodate the massive power of the bureaucracy, and they’ve become another end-run around the Fourth Amendment. If it’s “administrative” it must be reasonable, goes the non-thinking…)

This isn’t a bill about child predation. It’s a bald-faced attack on privacy and limited government. Congress can move legislation like this, even in the era of the Tea Party movement, because child predation is a taboo subject. The inference is too strong in too many minds that opposing government in-roads on privacy is somehow supporting child exploitation. Congress and its allies use taboos to cow the populace into accepting yet more government growth and yet more surveillance.

I’m not turned to mush by taboos, so the question I’m most interested in having asked at tomorrow’s hearing on the bill in the House Judiciary Committee is: “Under what theory of the Commerce Clause is this bill within the power of the federal government?”

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good: Congressional investigators are in Arizona to gather information on the ATF’s ill-conceived “Gunwalker” operation that supplied Mexican drug cartels with weapons. As I wrote at National Review, street agents objected from the beginning, but were told in no uncertain terms to pipe down:

Agents raised warnings to their superiors about the quantity of sales and the rising violence across the border, but were told that the operation had been approved at ATF headquarters. They were also told that if they didn’t like it, they were welcome to seek employment at the Maricopa County jail as detention officers making $30,000 a year.

I’d like to think that investigators will find that managerial incompetence was the culprit and not intentional facilitation of cross-border violence in order to hype gun control for the sake of Mexico. We’ll see.

The Bad: Philadelphia TSA screener Thomas Gordon has been arrested on child pornography charges.

The Ugly: Unions worked (for unrelated reasons) to keep said TSA screener in his job a few months before his arrest.

Thanks to AFGE’s legal assistance, a TSO at Philadelphia International Airport will remain employed at TSA after being proposed for removal. TSO Thomas Gordon had difficulty maintaining his work schedule because he had to take care of a family member…

“It means a great deal to me to know that my union — AFGE — has my back in situations like this,” Gordon said.

Now that the TSA screener workforce has voted to unionize, the only question is which union will represent them. Expect a stout union defense against any allegations of TSA excesses in patting down children or attractive women. If a union doesn’t defend the bad apples, it isn’t doing its job. Just ask the families of Sal Culosi and Erik Scott.

Prosecutors and the Forfeiture Laws

Child pornography is against the law. You can go to jail if you make it, distribute it, or possess it. There is also a law that says the government can seize property that is “used” to distribute child pornography.  So prosecutors can seize computer equipment from someone who engages in such criminal conduct.  Pretty straightforward. 

But in a recent case, the federal agents not only seized the computer, but the house and the 19 acres of land on which the house was located.  The prosecution argued – and an appellate court agreed [pdf] – that there was a “substantial connection” between the acreage and the offense.  That is just absurd.

I am also aware of a local case in which federal agents violently executed a search warrant in a child porn-in-the-computer-case.  Early morning raid, guns drawn, neighbors detained, the works. It was as if the agents were looking for a killer who recently escaped from Leavenworth.  More overkill.

For more information on forfeiture, go here and here.

Poor Judgment All Around

When school administrators discovered nude photos of teenage girls in the cell phones of some boys at school, they decided to set an example and crack down on “sexting.”  The school officials took the matter to the local prosecutor.  The prosecutor, in turn, informed the parents of the girls that the youngsters would either have to attend a multi-session education and counseling class or face felony child pornography charges.

The letter to the parents explaining the “program” stated, “Participation in the program is voluntary. …  However, charges will be filed against those that do not participate.”  Hmmm.  This curious arrangement was challenged in a lawsuit and the court found the prosecutors’ actions illegal.  Go here (pdf) for the ruling.  Will the prosecutor be sanctioned for the illegal action?  Don’t count on it.