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How does the federal government determine that I have child pornography on my computer?

If you or a loved one face child pornography charges, you likely have many questions. Can the government track internet usage? And how is the presence of child pornography determined? What happens next? Each case is unique, but there are some general guidelines.

How does the government know what is on my computer?

Adults are afforded certain rights to privacy. To have your computer confiscated or find out that the government secretly monitored your online activities may feel like a violation. However, there are laws in place to prevent children from being exploited, and those laws may trump an adult’s right to privacy.

It is disturbing to hear that child pornography was found on a computer that you own or use on a regular basis. How exactly was this determined or discovered? The identification of child pornography typically happens in one of two ways.

  • A computer that you own or used was confiscated. In most cases, law enforcement must either have your consent or a valid search warrant to confiscate items that you own. You should never voluntarily hand over your laptop or other electronic device. If the police don’t have a search warrant but ask for access to your computer, tell them “No” and contact an attorney right away. If your employer gave you a computer to use for work purposes, in most cases they own the computer. Police will need their consent–and not yours–to search your work-issued devices.
  • Law enforcement performed internet surveillance. Internet activity can be monitored remotely, and this is often how child pornography possession and distribution is discovered. Even computer users who go by fake names or anonymous IDs can be tracked via their Internet Protocol addresses.

How does the government track internet activity?

Internet activity can be tracked by anyone who has the right resources and know-how. When a device connects to the internet, that connection is assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address. IP addresses are four unique sets of numbers that are separated by periods. An IP address will look something like “11.111.111.11.”

If you want to know what your IP address is at any given time, Google the phrase, “What is my IP address?” Most people connect to the internet via multiple IP addresses: a home internet connection, at work, a coffee shop, etc.

An IP address alone won’t reveal a person’s name or their exact address. However, it will tell you the computer user’s general location. That’s why when you Google phrases like “Chinese restaurant delivery,” you receive suggestions for eateries near you. An IP address can also be used to identify the internet service provider.

Any time someone logs onto or accesses a website, they leave their IP address behind like a trail of breadcrumbs. Once you know what sites an IP has accessed and who the internet service provider is, you can start to connect the dots.

In addition to tracking the internet activity of an IP address, law enforcement may track the distribution of child pornography using special software. One such tracking program is PhotoDNA, which assigns a “hash”—a unique electronic signature—to an image. The hash is then compared against the hashes of other photos. If there is a match, law enforcement can then track what IP addresses are downloading or sharing this image.

The one crucial thing that an IP address can’t reveal

There’s one thing that an IP address alone can’t tell you, though, and that’s who was actually using the computer when the child pornography was viewed or downloaded. That may not necessarily be the individual who owns the computer or has the internet bill in their name.

Can the government track activity on the ‘dark web’?

The term “dark web” refers to a section of the internet that can only be accessed via a browser called “Tor.” You cannot log onto dark web sites via standard browsers like Google, Yahoo!, or Bing. Compared to the rest of the internet, the dark web does offer a higher level of anonymity. However, that does not mean that it is impossible to monitor activity. And, undercover law enforcement do have a presence on the dark web.

While the dark web itself is legal, many illegal activities such as drug sales and child pornography flourish there. Anyone who logs onto the dark web would be wise to remember that if something is illegal in real life, it is also illegal on the internet.

Child Pornography Attorney in Collin County, Texas

Child pornography is one of society’s most loathed crimes. Unfortunately, the media and the general public often equate a charge or an arrest with being guilty. Attorney Kent Starr knows that there is more to the story. He’s on your side, even when it feels like no one else is. He’ll make sure that your legal rights are upheld in a court of law, whether you face state charges or federal charges. Mr. Starr believes that being a criminal defense attorney is a calling, not just a job.

You’ll find that not all criminal defense attorneys are cut from the same cloth. Other lawyers may tell you that a plea bargain is the best you can hope for with these types of charges, no matter what the real story is. These lawyers are intimidated by the prosecution, unfamiliar with child pornography charges, or just plain afraid to go to trial.

Your freedom, your family’s future, and your reputation are all at stake. Mr. Starr is experienced with these types of serious felony charges, and is happy to share the outcomes of similar cases with you. Attorney Starr has a 4.9 out of 5.0 Google rating. You’ll see client testimonials like “an extraordinary, caring, diligent fighter” and “very professional but also very personal.”

In addition to being a criminal defense attorney, Mr. Starr is also a bail bondsman. He is available 24/7 to get you out of jail and start your legal representation. To learn more, contact Starr Law, P.C. online or call (214) 982-1408 to schedule your free consultation.

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Sources

Texas Penal Code Section. 43.26. Possession Or Promotion Of Child Pornography

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