Thursday, February 02, 2006

Beware The Cyberpolice

Without getting into great detail up front, if you are currently on the Internet and sending sexually suggestive pictures of yourself, others, or receiving these types of pictures of other people it is HIGHLY suggested that you stop doing this immediately.

Now, how do I make a statement like that WITHOUT sounding like a paranoid alarmist? What about my 1st amendment rights you say? I am basing this "suggestion” on a few cases that came into my office recently. It appears that federal and local law enforcement are having a grand ole time these days busting gay boys who happen to be lookin for a little lovin' in the privacy of their own homes.

Now can you be a martyr to the cause and challenge this suggestion? Sure, you can continue to do this - DEMAND YOUR FIRST AMMENDMENT RIGHTS; but also possibly face, an FBI inquiry, major stress and tumult in your life, loosing your job, potentially HUGE legal bills and of course the possibility of going to prison.

There is a huge myth out there that there is a "reasonable expectation of privacy" on the Internet. This is clearly erroneous. Law enforcement is not having a difficult time these days bringing minimum amounts of evidence into court and having judges issue warrants for peoples’ home computers, just looking for ANY sexual material to bust them on.

Although you may be aware of this, just for starters, the FBI has very sophisticated gadgetry which can completely restore your hard drive, should it once have contained illegal materials, even if they have been "deleted." They also have the ability to monitor your emails, web sites visited, instant messages, etc. etc. You can no longer take for granted that simply because you are in the privacy of your own home (or worse yet OFFICE) you can do whatever you wish on the Internet. Remember folks all it takes is a warrant or a subpoena and your anonymity is GONE!

Now, am I saying that these law enforcement agencies are bringing these matters with STRONG cases under their belts? No I am not. But in the past four months, I have seen three individual's lives almost destroyed by "simple investigations." A friend of mine called me recently and gave me this scenario:

While he was at work two FBI agents approached him and asked to talk to him. They took him into a room and began questioning him about ONE naked picture that he sent to someone almost two years ago. It turns out that the individual it was sent to was a minor who had obtained one of his older sibling's AOL sign ons and requested this picture.

When Mom and Dad signed on the computer and checked their old mail, they discovered the picture had been sent to their son and contacted the FBI. See how simple it is? Of course the minor has yet to admit he requested the picture and therein lies the impetus for "the simple investigation."

This individual has since lost his job due to the incredible suspicion the presence of the FBI agents caused and is still pending the decision on whether or not he will be charged with a criminal offense.

When you are talking on the internet, you have absolutely NO idea who you are talking to on the other side, be it minor, law enforcement agent, some other hot stud like yourself, or anything in between. There is a myth out there that individuals MUST disclose they are law enforcement if they are asked.

I am not saying that there is clear criminal liability should you unknowingly send a sexually explicit picture to a minor. In theory there is not. But is it worth the risk to HAVE to prove you had no knowledge of this in a court of law?

Additionally, it is important to note what happens when you receive a sexually suggestive picture of a possibly underage individual an email. Although you did not request that picture, technically being in mere possession of the picture is against the law.

However, if you are in the habit of collecting pictures of underage individuals (or pics of people who even resemble underage individuals) or visit web sites where other people who are into underage individuals are drawn to; do not be surprised if you find yourself under surveillance, investigation and maybe one day under arrest.

You may never really have the intent of having sex with an underage individual and it may just be a "fantasy trip," however, this matters little to law enforcement.

Let the user beware.

Carl Simons is an attorney practicing criminal and general civil practice at the Law Offices of Carl Simons located in Century City, Irvine, and Long Beach. If you have any questions regarding this or any other legal matter, please feel free to contact him at (310) 749-4LAW.


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