Click This Link, Go To Jail

from the wide-open-to-abuse dept

Declan McCullagh has written up an article about a questionable tactic used by the FBI to go after people looking for child porn. It set up a honeypot server and then posted links to it on a forum frequented by those who are looking for child pornography. It then used the IP address of people who clicked on the link as enough evidence to charge them with a crime. In the specific case McCullagh discusses, the guy was found guilty of simply clicking on that link. Of course, it's always difficult to separate out legal discussions like this from the fact that it involves child pornography -- which immediately sets off an emotional response. The problem here, though, is that the evidence on which the guy was found guilty could be used to find many people guilty of many things. The FBI didn't even track the referrer log -- just who went to the site. In other words, if someone had taken that link out of the forum and posted it on another site, a blog or sent an email around -- and anyone clicked on it without knowing anything about the link, they could have broken the law. This is open to tremendous abuse. If all you need to do to get someone convicted of child porn charges is get them to click a link, that doesn't seem right. Furthermore, in this case, the only other evidence was two small (admittedly questionable) thumbnail images, that there was no evidence that the guy looked at. In other words, to have enough evidence to convict someone and send them to jail for years (and get them listed as a sex offender), you could just send them an email with a link and some thumbnail images attached. If they click on the link (even if they don't ever look at the attached files), that's enough evidence, according to this case. That seems incredibly problematic.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Brian, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 3:15pm

    It's pretty scary how clueless those in positions of power can be when it comes to technology.

     

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  2.  
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    Josh, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 3:15pm

    Or even don't click the link and still go to jail.

    That's truly scary. Even if you don't click the link yourself, you could fall into this.

    Theres at least one plugin for Firefox that will download a page in the background before you ever click on it (such as if you hover your mouse over the link) for faster browsing.

    Another plugin can download all links that point to images or video on a single page in 1 click instead of having to manually save each one.

    And as far as webserver logs, there's no distinguishable difference between a link you actually clicked and one a plugin cached or saved for you.

     

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  3.  
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    Nick (profile), Mar 20th, 2008 @ 3:23pm

    Put the link on Digg, flood the guys log with 1000's of addresses, then proving that this tactic is worthless.

     

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  4.  
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    Josh, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 3:26pm

    Re: Or even don't click the link and still go to j

    Thinking further, what about NAT, a spoofed IP, inaccurate ISP IP logs, and all the other issues about getting an IP address to match to a human being.

    At best, that kind of information is enough for a warrant for a search of the computer. But clicking a link and then no other evidence is enough for a 10 year sentence and 15 years registered as a sex offender?

     

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  5.  
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    jm, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 3:51pm

    Bots, spiders and aggregators.

    The absurdity and ignorance of this tactic are especially glaring when you consider potential liabilities for anyone in charge of companies whose business requires web sampling, searching, spidering and so on. Because if all your need is a successful HTTP request for criminal guilt, there are many centuries of jail time waiting for big chunks of the web industry. Obviously this won't happen to the Big Guys, but what about the rest? Chilling effects, anyone?

     

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  6.  
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    rkme, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 4:05pm

    scary country

    they don't bother matching a human to ip addy. they charge whoever they cuff when they raid the house. I can't believe what's going on in this country.

     

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  7.  
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    Dave Zawislak, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 4:06pm

    Favicon.ico are next

    There is a site that loads all the favicons and uses the icon as a button to link to the site.

     

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  8.  
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    sparkplug, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 4:12pm

    Egregious Abuse of Stupidity

    How dare they use their stupidity in such a fashion! That level of retardation should be reserved for truly important work. Like making traffic jam from using the wrong turn signal or replacing the sugar with salt for your coffee!

    Seriously though, the lawyers involved must be truly retarded.

     

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  9.  
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    dmartin, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 4:29pm

    Ignorance

    Today's quote seems to be quite appropriate for this:

    "Against logic there is no armor like ignorance."
    - Laurence J. Peter

     

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  10.  
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    Scott, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 4:32pm

    Worse than stated

    All thats necessary is to embed this in an invis frame and pack it into a Viagra spam and you would get thousands of hits without people knowing. Use a common drive-by method to do this and you could hit more.

    I wonder what happens when an invis frame is embedded in a rouge doubleclick ad and the server gets hit will a billion requests from random people around the country.

     

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  11.  
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    AC, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 4:48pm

    Entrapment

    A uniquely American principle due to historical distrust of government.

    Above reader responses are all valid, but too technical. Start with basic principles.

    FWIW (and without citation) web browser cache is considered possession. Subject wasn't even charged with possession, but mere intent.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 4:59pm

    You think child pornographers aren't familiar with proxies and tor? this fact alone is sending a lot of innocents to jail

     

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  13.  
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    anon coward, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 5:01pm

    Excuse me, officer please click this link

     

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  14.  
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    Clark Cox (profile), Mar 20th, 2008 @ 5:10pm

    I think we've found...

    the next rickroll or goatse link. Everyone and their mother will be sending these URLs around.

     

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  15.  
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    Mikoangelo, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 5:13pm

    Rickroll

    It'll be the new rickrolling. xkcd (http://xkcd.com/396/) is on to something …

     

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  16.  
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    buckykat, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 5:14pm

    but it's okay... to 'protect the children'؟

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 5:17pm

    Click on a link and go to jail is a long way from click on a link and get a search warrant issued so the FBI can take a look at your computer.

    That being said, if the FBI threw this guy on the ground when he opened the door and then entered his house for the search, how did the guy destroy his hard drive and flash drive?

     

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  18.  
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    Pickles and Cheese Dip, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 5:30pm

    > Click on a link and go to jail is a long way from
    > click on a link and get a search warrant issued so
    > the FBI can take a look at your computer

    Read the article. The dude was convicted for clicking the link.


    > That being said, if the FBI threw this guy on the
    > ground when he opened the door and then entered his house
    > for the search, how did the guy destroy his hard drive
    > and flash drive?

    Also in the article. Basically the dude had destroyed these before anyone showed up at this door.

    The guy might be a perv, but convicting someone because an IP address is associated to a weblog is really scary shit.

    IP spoofing anyone?

     

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  19.  
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    James, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 5:40pm

    Once again, the idiotic lawmakers have done it aga

    Yes, watching child pornography is bad, not only bad but morally wrong. I'm not trying to decrease the severity of kitty porn viewers, but what about the guys actually making the videos? What about child trafficking? What about abused foster children? These damned people are wasting their time with stupid methods of capturing wanna-be pedophiles (for the most part). When there are other so many other thing wrong in society.

     

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  20.  
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    Tamara, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 6:08pm

    Re:

    He was charged and convicted of 'clicking an illegal hyperlink'; he was charged with and found not guilty of 'destroying a hard drive whilst FBI authorities were outside his house'.

     

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  21.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 6:42pm

    And then there's malware...

    ...enbed it in the next virus/worm, set a timer, and at the given hour, 500,000 systems all over the world hit the link at once.

    This is off-the-scale stupid. The people responsible should be publicly identified, publicly fired, and publicly blacklisted from all law enforcement activities for life. We simply can't tolerate people in positions of power who have such clearly inferior intellectual abilities -- they're not good enough to be public servants.

     

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  22.  
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    Peter, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 6:43pm

    Re: Worse than stated

    Be a little more selective -- send the link with images of "persons of interest" to the FBI and CIA and why not? Bush & Cheny.

     

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  23.  
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    Greg, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 6:45pm

    Links to jail

    Scarey. I was shown in a course on Internet use in the clasroom just how easy it is to get into a place you never intended to. Simple .com instead of .gov can get you there. I was even standing by a student and sawhim enter "clothing" in a Google site and get a porn picture. It wasn't the type of porn he'd have chosen on purpose.

    I would be suspicious if students printed pictures or stayed on the sie, but you can't be rediculous--and the FBI shouldn't be either.

     

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  24.  
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    anonymous kneeL, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 7:08pm

    cool

    Wow I need to get my hands on that link. I have a bunch of people I really want to make them click on it

     

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  25.  
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    Who Me?, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 7:55pm

    What If

    I emailed around a tiny URL version of the link with a hyper text of "Don't Follow This Link Or You'll Go To Jail"? Wouldn't that be a hoot. Now I can really have fun with my facebook friends.

     

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  26.  
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    Who Me?, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 7:57pm

    So

    Where is this link?

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 7:57pm

    I think charging someone with clicking on a link is absurd. That said, i find it hard to believe that the only evidence were internet logs. I just don't believe that would stand up in court. Unless the evidence was pretty damning, there will be an appeal.
    What is disturbing, is that some log file is enough to get a search warrent. Hopefully they had to show a lot more evidence then just one click, before they could get a search warrent. That would set a presidence (sp), saying you can search anyone's house and computer if your "illegal link" was accessed from there.
    In a broader sense, this hurts the internet as a whole. It makes the FBI a sort of internet terrorist. I understand the child pornography issue, but if you take this to a maxum, the government can use any information you or your computer give as evidence as long as they own the site.
    Think of it this way: It's not thier fault your computer got a virus that uploaded your whole hard drive to an FBI server.

     

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  28.  
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    Wolf, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 8:07pm

    I have never liked the idea of entrapment. You basically tempt someone into comitting the crime. It's good if you're a cop or prosecutor... gets all your numbers up, for when budget time comes around... and a bonus for the latter, it generates headlines and (for the next election) name recognition. Government is totally out of control in this country, and as a veteran, this is of great concern to me. The behavior of our public so-called "servants" is shameless.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 8:35pm

    That's the Law

    If all you need to do to get someone convicted of child porn charges is get them to click a link, that doesn't seem right.

    That's just the way the law and "justice" operate in the US. This isn't really all that new either. Even before the Internet it was a felony to receive child pornography in the mail. They didn't to show that you requested or even wanted it. Just that you received it. It was, and still is, an easy way for any enemy to ruin your life. All they have to do is to anonymously tip off the postal inspectors that you are receiving child porn in your mail and then mail some to you.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 8:44pm

    The biggest distributer of kiddy porn is...

    It set up a honeypot server and then posted links to it on a forum frequented by those who are looking for child pornography.

    I remember reading about a kiddy-porn-through-the-mail case back in the late 1970's or early 1980's where it was revealed in court that the biggest distributer of KP in the US at that time was actually the US government itself running various "sting" (honeypot) operations. Looks like things haven't changed much.

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 8:53pm

    Re:

    I have never liked the idea of entrapment.

    But like most people, I bet you've never really done much about it. And so it will continue...

     

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  32.  
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    Strangeratrandom, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 11:59pm

    There is way more to the Govt's abuse of power then this one story. The Gov't needs to be stopped in there tracks. There are parents out there who have to pay 35% of there income to support a child thats been forced to live with the other parent. Think about it, 35% of your Gross income, Subtract it from your Gross next time you get paid, Then subtract the taxes they took out of your check. and see what you come up with to live on untill you get paid again.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 12:02am

    Ha, for some reason this reminds me of "Ringu".
    Would anybody have a copy of the link?

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 12:24am

    what about the children

     

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  35.  
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    Rekrul, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 3:02am

    The idea that someone could be convicted of simply clicking a link is just beyond ridiculous! What if I take such an URL then use TinyURL to conceal where it really points to and post it on a forum with a message stating that it's for information on a movie? Are they going to send everyone who unwittingly clicks on the link to prison?

    It seems that all reason and common sense goes right out the window as soon as "child pornography" is mentioned. Child abuse is wrong, but is it any reason to start the modern equivalent of a witch hunt? From what I've read, child pornography wasn't even illegal until the late 1970s or early 1980s. Was there a child abuse epidemic back then? If not, why is it considered so much more a problem today that people have to be locked up and have their lives ruined for even attempting to look at it?

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 4:08am

    you asked for it...

    Here it is...
    http://tinyurl.com/2usdx4
    have fun with it.
    if you click it yourself though make sure you're behind several proxies, or at least one with a power level of over 9000.
    The two pics are totally questionable btw.

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 12:17pm

    Thanks for the link. I'll link it to my enemies and say check out this funny joke. ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 10:11pm

    Re:

    fuck the children

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    Javarod, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 6:20pm

    Re: The biggest distributer of kiddy porn is...

    There was a case back in the late 80s, school bus driver'd bought two magazines that at the time were still legal in CA. Years go by, store gets busted for not only continuing to sell those softcore magazines, but also hard core, and it'd kept a customer list. For the next two years, the government stuffed the guy's PO box with ads for books, magazines, movies, pen pals and more. When he finally ordered something, they busted him. Case was thrown out for entrapment, for all their trouble, there was no proof that he'd so much as looked at a kid wrong, and he'd purchased nothing after the law changed, in other words despite his interests, he was willing to abide by the law. Seems the government's habits never change much, do they?

     

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  40.  
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    Rekrul, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 8:11pm

    As someone else suggested, send the link to every politician you can find an email address for and ask them to do something about the "smut" found on that site. Maybe when dozens of politicians start turning up on the FBI's hit list, the courts will realize that simply clicking a link isn't a crime.

     

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  41.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 3:14am

    Foolish FBI..

     

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  42.  
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    zarflaax, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 11:50am

    CPROLL THE RICKROLL OF TOMORROW

     

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  43.  
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    Bah who needs one, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 4:17pm

    Maybe when dozens of politicians start getting search warrants served or even getting arrested, we'll finally have thrown the bums out.

     

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  44.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 11:34am

    what a joke

    our country has become.. I think it might be time to become a Mexican!

     

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  45.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 12:13pm

    Viva Mexico! I'm an Irish white kid sitting here drinking a Jumex Guava nectar and eating a bad-assed torta de pollo I got from my good friend Julio down at teh corner store. That's some food I can get patriotic about!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:16pm

    a good idea...

    Here is an idea. Use this link in an auto redirect in a popup ad. Yes most people have popup blockers but that doesnt count for much. But they wont need to even click it and it will give do the same.

    You then spam the world and see how many pieces the FBI server falls into.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
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    mike_lee, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 11:47pm

    I don't buy the FBI

    This guy is a doctoral student he would be smart enough to use a proxy. The tiny grainy thumbs were a thumbs.db file of naked girls - how can you make being naked a crime? We're born naked, we wear clothes for protection and style but we're still at the heart of the matter humans. Sheep have wool, men have skin. . .

    I'm not doing a good job of expressing my point. Grown ups having sex with children I can see and in a sense support criminalizing. But going to prison for 10 years for looking at something seems extreame

     

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  48.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:30am

    Wade Luders is an enemy of liberty; he and all tyrants like him should be put to the sword. Just as the federal government used "terrorists gonna git ya!"-themed propaganda to push and pass the heinously unconstitutional "Patriot" Act, and just as it used the same doublespeak to subsequently work all the moronic sheep into a slobbering frenzy of mantra-shouting support for the completely illegal and irrelevant Iraq war (the ultimate aim of which was to financially benefit the U.S. business and power elite), it has now turned to the handy-dandy pedophile to greedily further its own power. Oh, believe me, this is just a stepping stone to greater things, people! Hell, they've already crossed the "entrapment" hurdle; before you know it, all it will take is a cross word about the vice president on a forum and . . . DOOR KICK! DOOR SMASH! "Get on the ground, asshole! You are being arrested for possession of child pornography!" "But . . . but . . . what?!" "Remember that lil' link that you clicked on, sicko? Yeah, you thought you had some nice kiddy porn comin' up, didn't ya?" "What the hell?! I never clicked on -- " STOMACH KICK! FACE SMASH! "SHUT THE HELL UP YOU SICK FUCK! You're coming with us!" The word "pedophile" will be the mark of the beast, and all who openly oppose the Feds' abuse of power will have it drawn on their foreheads with a magic marker (shittily made in China, of course).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
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    Helpfulpotter, Apr 6th, 2011 @ 1:56am

    Re: Or even don't click the link and still go to j

     

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  50.  
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    Helpfulpotter, Apr 6th, 2011 @ 1:59am

    Re: Or even don't click the link and still go to j

    Guys, please report this childporn site. http://www.seducedbabysitters.com/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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