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Lawmakers look bring down "cloud" porn

By Tom Flanigan

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-961944.mp3

Tom Flanigan – Consumers of child pornography have found a way to skirt the law. Tom Flanigan reports a Florida House subcommittee was working to close that legal loophole today on Wednesday.

Advances in technology can result in good things. Like faster computers to help you do your work, more reliable, fuel-efficient cars and ever-bigger flat screen TVs. But, Representative Mark Pafford, a Democrat from West Palm Beach, told the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee that technology can also mean less detectable ways to commit crime, such as viewing child pornography.

"Ten years ago, we were looking at people downloading information, images, to their home computer or computer that they used, and it was placed on their hard drive. Now we have something called The Cloud'. The Cloud is outside of the law. People will watch these images hundreds-of-thousands of times on their home computer and the law allows them to do that without any ability to be caught."

That's because people can access whatever is in "The Cloud" without leaving any trace on their computer hard drives. That presents a real problem for police and prosecutors, because current law assumes there will be an electronic record of child porn downloads on the offender's computer hard drive. So Representative Pafford brought his bill before the members. It would criminalize just looking at child pornography via computer. Of course, a lot of things can pop up unbidden on your computer as you're surfing the web for perfectly innocent sites. If such a pop-up was an image of a child engaged in a sexual act and the computer user did not deliberately seek that image out, would that be a crime? Representative Pafford brought along Greg Schiller, a prosecutor from his home county of Palm Beach, to answer that question.

"Certainly, we're going to look at the number involved in this case and the computer forensics. This is going to be a major concern. We want to see how many web sites an individual was going to, how they were saving their information, how they were categorizing it."

But Schiller told the subcommittee that the Pafford measure was essential to halting this new method of viewing child porn.

"Those who previously possessed child pornography and could be prosecuted and punished under Florida law for this heinous crime, are now viewing the same images on foreign-born web sites that the U.S. government cannot control, or saving their information in what we know as The Cloud'. Courts dealing with these issues have said that unless it's physically in the possession of the offender, it's not a criminal act because currently we only punish those who possess child pornography and child abuse images. This amendment will allow law enforcement and prosecutors to go after those individuals who view child abuse images over the Internet, but don't download them."

The irony in all this is that there are some people who must, under the law, view child porn. Those are the law enforcement people investigating the case. Representative Pafford's amendment included them as being immune from prosecution. Miami Democrat, John Patrick Julien thought an extra exemption might be in order.

"But when law enforcement is done with their investigation, remember that the judiciary has to kick in as well and I think the amendment needs to be tightened up to include the judges because they have to knowingly view it in order to prosecute it as well."

With two more committee stops to go, there will be ample time to include that language in the final bill. The subcommittee cleared the measure without a single "nay" vote.

There were several other bills before the subcommittee. One from Miami Republican Eddy Gonzalez was actually suggested by some middle school kids in his district who have seen a growing abuse problem with over-the-counter cough medicines that contain dextromethorphan (dex-troe-meh-THOR-fan), more commonly known as D-X-M.

"And what's happening with these medicines is that kids are going right to the shelf, they're not even buying it - under 18-year old kids - and they're pretty much putting it in their pocket or taking them. There's a web site that tells them how much to take depending on their height and weight and they get some sort of a high from it. A couple people have died from it already."

One of the best-selling cough medicines containing D-X-M is Robotussin. The Gonzalez bill would take that and similar products off the shelf and put them behind the counter so customers would have to ask for them. After a few helpful suggestions from subcommittee members, the Gonzalez bill passed unanimously.