Paul D. Cramm

Legal Concerns Regarding How Google Handles Child Pornography Material

Google has now simultaneously assumed the role of pediatric medical forensic expert and grand juror. In the August 5, 2014 article entitled: “How Google handles child pornography in Gmail, search” by Mark Hachman, senior editor for PCWorld, the author notes the following Google practice:

“Google itself compiles a database of images of possible abuse that have been brought to the company’s attention, sources close to the company said. Those images are then reviewed by a human employee. If confirmed to show abuse, the company assigns each image a unique digital fingerprint, which is entered into its database.”

The foregoing begs the question: what are the criteria by which images of “possible” abuse are “confirmed?” Moreover, which “human employees” are responsible for this “confirmation?” What are their credentials?

We all have met 15-17 year olds who could easily pass for someone 21-23 years of age. We have also all encountered 21-23 year olds (particularly young women) who have very slight, almost boyish figures who could easily pass for someone 15-17 years of age. The fact of the matter is, there is a very broad range of physical appearance for late adolescents and early adults.

“Confirmation” of the age of someone in a photograph is not unlike predicting the weather – or even earthquakes. Based on everything we can see, it might rain, or it might not … based on past seismic activity, we’re pretty sure there will be another earthquake near this fault line sometime in the foreseeable future. That’s why formal criminal prosecutions for crimes against children require the testimony of forensic pediatric expert witnesses, not ordinary persons ‘guessing’ how old a person in a picture might be. That’s why indictment for serious crimes against children at the Federal level requires consensus of a Grand Jury. It is genuinely frightening to think that Google is supplanting its judgment for that of forensic experts and grand jurors.

Sadly, child abuse is real. So are websites that cater to lawful imagery of consenting adults who present a markedly youthful appearance. Take away the make-up, add juvenile clothing and attire, and lawful images of 18-23 year olds can be easily – and mistakenly – “confirmed” as images of “abuse.”

Everyone must consider that every keystroke they enter on any computer or mobile device is preserved – without expectation of privacy. In today’s day and age, people should not even consider asking or saying or expressing anywhere online – whether e-mail, or chatroom, or social media – anything that they would not want published on the front page of the local paper. Remember, Google is watching, and confirming, and reporting every keystroke.

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About the Author

This practice has been exclusively devoted to all levels of criminal defense from misdemeanor offenses in municipal court to felony matters in the Federal courts of Kansas and the Western District of Missouri. Paul D. Cramm is qualified to provide defense in Capital and Death Penalty cases.