This article is primarily about the peer to peer (P2P) viewing of child pornography over the internet. In today’s computer age child pornography prosecutions at both the State, including Florida, and Federal level have exploded in large part because of P2P downloading and uploading. It is quite possible for someone to sit in their living room and out of simple human curiosity look at photographs that if detected by law enforcement would result in them being imprisoned for many years. There are also those who are pedophiles with vast collections of child pornography who use P2P programs. The purpose of the article is not to judge who is or is not a pedophile or judge the reason why someone may look at illegal material. It is simply to inform those who use these programs of the extremely serious legal consequences for viewing such material through P2P program software.
Severe Criminal Consequences
Federal prosecutions have increased exponentially in the last five to ten years. Receipt of Child Pornography carries with it a five year minimum mandatory prison sentence to be followed by a period of supervised release or probation in addition to forever being labeled a sexual offender with all of the collateral consequences of such a designation. The base term of imprisonment level will increase tremendously based on the number of photos, the nature of the photo – in fact, in the criminal system the level will be increased if a computer is used! If the photo (or movie) has been “uploaded,” which is how all P2P programs operated, a charge of distribution may be filed which carries a five year minimum mandatory federal prison sentence. In Florida State Courts possession of each photograph that fits the definition of child pornography carries with it a five year maximum prison sentence. So if a person uses a search query like “girls having sex,” and allows the program to download photos or movies that may include those identifying words, and lets the program work overnight, by the morning they probably will have downloaded thousands of illegal images of underage children engaged in sexual activity. This can be the situation even if the person’s intent was to only download adult material. There are a very limited number of defenses to these crimes.
Law enforcement, at both the State and Federal levels, and often times working as TASK forces together, will focus on a particular movie and, using their software find every computer through the user’s IP address that downloaded the material and then obtain the individuals records from the Internet Provider giving them the name and address of the person in whose home the computer is located that downloaded the illegal materials. This information forms the probable cause for a judge to authorize a search warrant of the person’s home that enables law enforcement to then execute and generally seize all computers, cameras, flash drives, CDs, lap tops, I pads, or Smart phones. Subsequently, law enforcement does a forensic evaluation to determine the extent of the person’s involvement with child pornography.
Many people cooperate with law enforcement and provide a full statement at the time of the seizure not fully realizing that possession of such materials will, in many cases, result in a lengthy prison sentence and forever being labeled a sexual offender. Furthermore, both in Florida and the Federal Systems, penalties for possession, receipt and/or distribution of child pornography has more than quadrupled in the last ten years. It is not uncommon today to see a person who has a successful career, is a community leader, has little or no prior criminal history, and had never in any manner abused a child receive a fifteen to twenty year sentence!
More Public Awareness is Needed
I have no doubt that if the public were more aware of the consequences of downloading material that, but for the computer, they would never look at, the number of child pornography prosecutions would decline tremendously. Many people look at illegal material for the same reasons why we, as human beings, slow down to look at a car wreck, out of curiosity or an obsessive/compulsive driven need. Most psychologists agree that people who merely look at child pornography on the internet do NOT act out and are not pedophiles. However, this article is not designed to explain why such people may look at or collect such materials and I am certainly not qualified to diagnose someone’s motivation for doing so.
My advice to people is not to use these programs in any manner, even for downloading music, which in itself may be theft or copyright infringement.