Can child porn really find its way to your computer without your knowledge? While police and prosecutors are skeptical, alleged pedophiles often claim that a computer virus deposited illegal pictures or video on their hard drives.
A recent Associated Press investigation, however, has revealed a number of instances where computer viruses have, in fact, been designed to place pornographic images of children on the computers of innocent victims. For those affected, proving their innocence costs thousands of dollars - sometimes hundreds of thousands.
According to designers of computer security software, approximately 20 million computers worldwide are infected with viruses that could give someone else complete control. Pedophiles can take advantage of these hacked computers to store and access child porn remotely, protecting themselves in case of an investigation. Hackers can also take control of a computer's internet access, forcing the computer to surf to sites containing child pornography without the owner's knowledge.
In 2007, a former Massachusetts workers' compensation investigator was charged with possession of child pornography when his employer found child porn on the hard drive of his state-issued computer. An inspection later revealed that the computer was badly infected; it had been programmed to visit over 2000 child porn sites per hour, all without his knowledge.
After almost a year, the case against him was dropped, but not before he lost his job and his friends. He even had his car vandalized and experienced death threats.
While law enforcement officials admit that a virus can sometimes place child porn on a computer, the ubiquity of the excuse leads them to question it in every instance. The director of the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society compares it to the "dog ate my homework" excuse used by schoolchildren everywhere. The problem, he says, is that sometimes the dog really did eat the homework.
What can you do to protect yourself? Keeping your computer's firewall or antivirus program up to date will help, as will refraining from opening email attachments from unknown sources. Also, if you believe that you have been charged wrongly for possession of child pornography, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.
North Carolina vs. M.W.
Charge: Charge: Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon (4 Counts), First Degree Burglary, Conspiracy to Commit Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon
Facing: 12 - 17 years in prison
An incarcerated defendant accused our client of participating in the robbery of a group of youth at a party. We were able to raise doubt as to the credibility of this individual. In the end, the prosecutor dismissed these charges, citing a lack of evidence.