Operation Innocent Images

Tim Byars (tbyars@earthlink.net)
Mon, 11 Mar 1996 09:12:12 -0800

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- Even his lawyer acknowledges that Bruce
Black is a pedophile who enjoys looking at pictures of young boys
having sex.
What lawyer John Bisbee is trying to do is convince a federal
judge that the FBI's ``Operation Innocent Images'' violated Black's
privacy and free speech rights by snooping on his online swapping
of child pornography.
However, few online activists along the electronic frontier are
willing to support Black, a 29-year-old former Boy Scout worker.
``We certainly don't have a problem with the police
investigating people for child porn,'' says Stanton McCandish of
the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
``How they do it can be an issue if they violate people's rights
in the process ... but so far we haven't seen any evidence that the
Innocent Images investigations were not conducted properly.''
Prosecutors say a proper warrant was used to seize hundreds of
images of child pornography found on Black's home computer.
Other say the case does raise serious questions about online
``I think people have a right to know what the rules are,'' said
David Sobel, a staff lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information
U.S. District Judge Harold Baker is scheduled to hear arguments
March 18 on whether to drop the charges against Black.
Black was fired from his job with the regional Boy Scouts office
shortly after his August arrest. Black recruited adult volunteers
and supervised the kitchen staff at a scout camp; scouting
officials have said they have no evidence that he abused any
Black was one of more than a dozen people arrested last year on
charges of circulating child pornography on America Online, the
nation's largest computer service. He faces nine federal counts
carrying a maximum prison term of 85 years and fines of $2.25
At least six other people have been convicted or pleaded guilty
to charges stemming from the investigation, authorities say.
Bisbee argues that agents violated Black's privacy by looking
into his personal messages to and from other computer users.
Prosecuting him ``attempts to punish him because of the fantasies
he indulged,'' Bisbee says in court documents.
Sobel says the Innocent Images case raised important questions
about online privacy.
``I think that this investigation probably demonstrates that
these people probably were not aware that the contents of their
(electronic) mailboxes could and would be accessed by America
Online at the request of law enforcement,'' Sobel said.
But he said the case has caused little furor for several
reasons, including the lack of well-known defendants, Sobel said.
Another reason is that America Online and its users ``tend to be
scoffed at generally'' by many on the Internet, he said.
``I think a lot of the more sophisticated Internet types think
this is something that befell the unsophisticated AOL users and
this would never have happened to us because we would never use a
system as unsophisticated as AOL,'' Sobel said. ``But this is an
issue not only for the Internet community but for the public at
large, because a lot more people who are not familiar with the
technologies are using them.''
Arguments about privacy and free expression irritate Barry
Crimmins, who was one of the America Online users who alerted
authorities to the child pornography trade.
``His privacy? His privacy to, what, view the evidence of crimes
for lurid purposes?'' says Crimmins, a political satirist from
Cleveland. ``That's like saying you could mug someone and call it
performance art.''

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There are no incurable ills | There are no believable Gods There are no unkillable thrills | There are no unreachable goals There are no unbeatable odds | There are no unsaveable souls . . Osbourne e-mail tbyars@earthink.net | http://home.earthlink.net/~tbyars ---------------------------------------------------------------------