Rethinking Sex Offender Laws for Youths Showing Off Online

NY Times:

Rethinking Sex Offender Laws for Youths Showing Off Online

In Iowa, Jorge Canal is on the sex offenders registry because, at age 18, he was convicted of distributing obscene materials to a minor after he sent a picture of his penis by cellphone to a 14-year-old female friend who had requested it.

In Florida, Phillip Alpert, then 18, was charged with distributing child pornography and put on the sex offenders registry because after a fight, he sent a photograph of his nude 16-year-old girlfriend by e-mail to dozens of people, including her parents.
In most states, teenagers who send or receive sexually explicit photographs by cellphone or computer — known as “sexting” — have risked felony child pornography charges and being listed on a sex offender registry for decades to come.

But there is growing consensus among lawyers and legislators that the child pornography laws are too blunt an instrument to deal with an adolescent cyberculture in which all kinds of sexual pictures circulate on sites like MySpace and Facebook.
Last year, Nebraska, Utah and Vermont changed their laws to reduce penalties for teenagers who engage in such activities, and this year, according to the National Council on State Legislatures, 14 more states are considering legislation that would treat young people who engage in sexting differently from adult pornographers and sexual predators.

And on Wednesday, the first federal appellate opinion in a sexting case recognized that a prosecutor had gone too far in trying to enforce adult moral standards.

Not sure how I feel about this – I hate to see teens, even nominal adults like 18-19 yr-olds wind up on the sex offender registry for life basically for being idiots.
Obviously none of them understand that online nothing is ever deleted.

I am not ambivalent about it it at all.

When the laws were proposed, these types of people were never intended to be on the lists.

These lists were supposed to be those individuals that were a real credible threat to their neighbors.

I can rob, assault, murder my neighbor without a worry about be listed, but if someone is caught urinating in public, watch out.

Teens that are caught sexting should be grounded not arrested. If my daughter and her boyfriend exchange nude pictures, it should not be a police matter. This is lunacy.

I agree, I don’t think this was the intent of this law. Given the wide scope this is taking, I wouldn’t be surprised if parents start get arrested for having pictures of their kids when they would run around naked, or the always favourite bath pictures.

[quote="Paul1961, post:2, topic:191466"]
I am not ambivalent about it it at all.

When the laws were proposed, these types of people were never intended to be on the lists.

These lists were supposed to be those individuals that were a real credible threat to their neighbors.

I can rob, assault, murder my neighbor without a worry about be listed, but if someone is caught urinating in public, watch out.

Teens that are caught sexting should be grounded not arrested. If my daughter and her boyfriend exchange nude pictures, it should not be a police matter. This is lunacy.

[/quote]

And if they post the photos on their blog, and a 25 year old downloads them, he is guilty of receiving child porn, while those posting child porn will simply be grounded.

If child porn is to be excused because the purveyors are children themselves, I can see a lot of children making big bucks in the child porn industry with no fear of felony convictions. The adult pornographers will be all over this.

Well in that case it would be production of child porn because it’s been posted on a public internet site with the intent for anyone to see it and they’re under 18 (or whatever the age is).

I think we can agree that this the point of the law is to outlaw this.

I think the point Paul1961 was trying to make is that the sex offenders registry seems to have a lot of unnecessary people on it. From what I understand, it’s for people who’ve committed a heinous/dangerous sexual crime and are likely to re-offend. Rapists, pedophiles, that sort of criminals. If a guy sends a picture of his penis to his girlfriend do we really need to track him, force him to tell every future employer, or restrict where he’s living? It seems a little much for what was probably just a stupid decision.

Oh, I agree that the sex offender registry is probably sweeping up a lot of people who are not truly sex offenders, and that’s a shame.

My point is simply that child porn is still child porn, even if distributed by children. And distributing child porn is exactly what these underage teens are doing.

For that matter, once a photo is transmitted either by cellphone or the internet, it cannot be recalled. It can be intercepted, hacked, and posted on adult sites. I can see some adult approaching a teen with a list of cellphone numbers and a proposition: “all you have to do is forward that photo of you or your girlfriend to these numbers. I’ll pay you $x for every time you forward it. You can’t get in trouble because you’re under 18. And I can’t get in trouble because I’m not distributing anything.”

The law is not moral. As someone put it, "these are idiocies" of youth. Yes, young people deserve consequences for their actions. But consequences must be just. You do not punish a teen who is acting like a dweeb as if he were a hardened criminal.

There is another danger here. If your life is going to be ruined by some stupid mistake that you made at age 18, then you may as well go for broke. This can easily become the thinking of some of these kids. Remember, they did not get into trouble for being bright or having common sense.

The law has to be written not to give these kids a pass, but to give them a consequence that will discourage this kind of behavior or worse in the future.

An 18-year old DUI and his license is suspended. The DUI is recorded for several years, then deleted. That's what most states do. The current law concerning sexual offenders does not have an expiration date. In some states you can remain on that list for life. Is this right for someone who does something stupid like send pics on a phone or email? Where is the proportionality in our legal system?

Law must be based on moral reasoning.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :)

Mm. Hacking a MMS message would be quite hard actually. You would have to somehow intercept and decode the signal that is traveling from the cell phone to the cell tower, or you’d have to have access to the server that’s receiving/resending the message.

Hacking is quite hard actually. That’s why pretty much all of what you hear is people gaining control of computers through worms and viruses that people download and they get in through backdoors (unusual open ports). The most likely way a person hacks into your email is to guess the password. And if someone was really afraid of that, they could always encrypt their emails.

I believe you. But I wouldn’t be comfortable with having a nude photo of any kid floating out there in cyberspace indefinitely.

For that matter, the image is retained on the cell phone hard drive, even if it’s deleted. That cell phone itself can be hacked. And depending on how many people this kid sent the photos to, there is very little control over what happens to them. It’s like handing out naked printed photos of one’s girlfriend to one’s friends and relatives. It’s out there and the originator has lost control of the distribution.

[quote="JimG, post:9, topic:191466"]
I believe you. But I wouldn't be comfortable with having a nude photo of any kid floating out there in cyberspace indefinitely.

For that matter, the image is retained on the cell phone hard drive, even if it's deleted. That cell phone itself can be hacked. And depending on how many people this kid sent the photos to, there is very little control over what happens to them. It's like handing out naked printed photos of one's girlfriend to one's friends and relatives. It's out there and the originator has lost control of the distribution.

[/quote]

That on the other hand is all true. That's just the way hard drives work though. When you delete something from your hard drive it doesn't actually get deleted, the reference just gets deleted and the area ("sector") where the memory exists will eventually be overwritten. That's why lots of operating systems come with a "secure delete" command now (I believe the actual sector is overwritten with 0 like 7 times or something, and apparently that could also be recovered if you had the right set of conditions. Really the only sure way to destroy digital data is to smash the physical hard drive/memory chip).

Looking back at part of the original post, there was this incident:

In Florida, Phillip Alpert, then 18, was charged with distributing child pornography and put on the sex offenders registry because after a fight, he sent a photograph of his nude 16-year-old girlfriend by e-mail to dozens of people, including her parents.
In most states, teenagers who send or receive sexually explicit photographs by cellphone or computer — known as “sexting” — have risked felony child pornography charges and being listed on a sex offender registry for decades to come.

If the photos were sent to the parents or other adults, then those parents and adults themselves could be charged with possession of child porn. The laws relating to such matters as well as placement on sex offender registries need to be written so as to allow some flexibility. But many aren’t, just as some ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ laws could end up sending someone to prison for decades for a minor crime.

At the same time, underage kids need to understand that transmitting nude photos could come back to haunt them decades later, even if they are never charged with child porn. Some childish pranks are worse than others. Some are felonies.

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