By Mark David Blum, Esq.
A man was lured to prison by the use of emoticons. A police officer posing as a young female on the internet kept a man from ignoring her by sending sad emoticons. The internet symbol was used to express sadness and anger at the man because he would not talk to her because of her age. Eventually he succumbed to the bait and found himself in police custody and headed to prison.
By now we are all familiar with the hot new reality show on MSNBC about catching so-called internet predators. Briefly, for those unaware, the show has an adult actor pretend to be an underage child on the internet, the actor invades chat rooms and via ongoing conversation lures and baits people into coming to meet up. When the invitee arrives, he is met with TV cameras and then police. Bragging about how many ‘perverts’ the show catches, many people believe the producers of the show are doing a social good.
I disagree. In fact, not only are they not doing society any good but the show is baiting otherwise innocent people into engaging in acts they would likely not otherwise perform. But to John Walsh (still capitalizing upon the death of his son) and Miss America and the producers of the show, not only do they enjoy their work, but they are truly convinced they are doing the right thing.
So they thought also when they brought their show to Murphy, Texas. In the course of taping the show, the ‘sting’ netted 25 men. That however was not enough. Even those who just chatted with the adult pretending to be a child were targeted for arrest. “Among them was Louis Conradt Jr., an assistant prosecutor from neighboring Kauffman County, who allegedly engaged in a sexually explicit online chat with an adult posing as a 13-year-old boy. As police knocked at his door and a "Dateline" camera crew waited in the street, [the ADA] shot himself.”
Fortunately, I am not alone in finding problems with television shows baiting people into committing crimes. Without police oversight and prosecutorial guidance, viewers see just a part of the story. Additionally, enlightened prosecutors recognize that witnesses against the defense are tainted and entrapment is written all over the place. In fact, the local District Attorney in Murphy said that, “16 of the cases, he had no jurisdiction, since neither the suspects nor the decoys were in the county during the online chats. As for the rest of the cases, he said neither police nor NBC could guarantee the chat logs were authentic and complete.”
Back in 1989, I found my way onto the internet; though it was not then known as such and few people knew about it. Few were the means of access and the technology was barbaric by today’s standards. Mostly universities had access through their own intranets and AOL was just giving birth to a new industry. I was there; before MIRC, before DALNET, before audio, video, Google, cable, or internal modems.
Over the years, I have explored all four corners of the internet. I have peeked inside it’s every nook and cranny. Based on all that experience, I have come to a single conclusion. ‘The internet is a vast wasteland of nothingness, that exists nowhere but within the confines of your own fantasies.’ I have held to that statement for more than a decade, and everything I have seen or experienced confirms that analysis.
To this day and despite the billions of discussions in which I have engaged, there is a single line that stands out to me that best exemplifies the point. In describing her recently failed ‘internet relationship’ with someone, a woman once lamented to me how, “the greatest lover” she “ever had” was a man “whose face I never saw and whose lips I never kissed.” Putting aside the sheer ickyness of that statement, I believe it best summarizes the reality of what is going on everywhere at any given moment on the internet.
I do not believe that in a free society, we should be imprisoning our citizens for their thoughts and fantasies; so long as the fantasies remain fantasies. Orwell’s ‘1984’ said it was the thought that was the crime. We are not quite there yet.
Should I expect a knock at the door from my local constable for posting here on the internet? In case some judge is about to sign a warrant, let me make it absolutely clear that I would never do anything to harm any child whatsoever! There is no justification for hurting a child. Why would anybody want to cause injury to a kid when instead it is so much safer to just cause a lifetime of emotional suffering? But, I should also state that I feel the same way about adults. As a class of persons, ‘children’ are no different than the rest of us.
We have to allow the cyberspace freedom of expression to reach out for its’ zenith. There can be no limits on content of DISCUSSION. If two people are masturbating (“cybering” as it is known in the industry) and are sharing an active yet private role playing fantasy; what role should police and government play? Dreaming of government and police bent down on all fours and braying like a mule might be an interesting fantasy. Maybe one of them will email me and we can discuss it further. Don’t you fantasize about the District Attorney in a frilly pink tutu with nipple clamps and a ball gag? I can … and do … often.
What if a cyber friend shifts the fantasy to a darker side? There are not many adult males who have been to the State Fair who, while hiding behind sunglasses, have not ogled the thrusting breasts of a nubile young teen. Every adult has fantasies. Some fantasies are dark and morally unacceptable.
This is the interesting capacity of the internet. It is also called ‘ski-lift’ syndrome. For a short period of time, while locked in a secluded environment with a total stranger, each of you has no limits as whom and what you are and can accomplish. Two healthy adults can ‘fantasize’ in a chat room about playing doctor and nurse, master and slave, or teacher and student. What is really happening is just a furious exchange of trigger words and a rush of visions inside the mind of the writer. But, the writer is writing to themselves.
What is not happening is that no criminal activity is afoot. When one of the participants is not involved, the other cannot be criminalized. It is not unheard of on the internet (not that I would know anything about it) where only one person in a conversation is actually engaged in the discussion. The other person can at the same time be cooking dinner, talking on the telephone, or pretending to be someone they are not.
Pretending to be a 13 year old girl engaged in a sexual role playing fantasy on the internet is not a crime so far as I know. If it is, it should not be. First of all, being able to discuss and confront an immoral and illegal fantasy in the safety of the internet perhaps provides the necessary release for the criminal minded that prevents them from actually engaging in the destructive behavior. Arguments to the contrary are just as sound. Since nobody I know is a pedophile who cybers on the internet, I really have nobody to ask and learn what impact these little sessions have upon manifestation of behavior.
Second, because it is a fantasy, it is at the core of human dignity and privacy. How many husbands and wives play ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ in their bedroom conquests? In my opinion, you can rank the privacy of personal fantasies right up there with keeping a diary, pillow talk with your partner, and religious privilege. Fantasies are at the core of the human psyche. They are our Id. They are the driving force behind so much that has been accomplished. Fantasies, I believe, are what set us apart from just about every other critter on the planet. Being able to confront them, see them before our eyes, and thus “out” them makes us healthier in our ability to deal with such ideas in the real world.
Before you sit in judgment on the fantasies of another, look back into your own dark hearts. What fantasies do you have now or have you had that if splashed across the front page of the newspaper would destroy your life? Obviously you never intended to live them out. You cannot control the thoughts that fly through your mind. Only your reaction to these thoughts is within your control.
The danger arises when police themselves become an active participant in the sexual fantasy. Like cooking dinner, the police officer participant is not actually involved in the fantasy. Instead of feeding the fantasy of the target out of benevolence, police instead solely engage in the fantasy discussion to draw out someone where statements will be made that can be used to incriminate. The target cannot see with whom he is dealing and has no choice to get out of the discussion. Not only is that cruel, but it cannot be tolerated in a free society.
When your pants are down around your ankles and a police officer is posting and engaging you to the point that your dick is dripping with excitement, you cannot be imprisoned because you go along with the game. We do not allow police officers posing as hookers to arrest a ‘john’ for prostitution AFTER the cop and the john have completed a sex act. Why is such behavior tolerated on the internet?
The internet is a very safe place. What is said and done online stays online. Actual manifestations of anything that happens in cyberspace requires a secondary line of thinking and action. A plan has to be made. Actual conduct must occur. Just saying “we’ll see” or begging for pictures and typing, “ahhhhhhhhh” while in cyberspace has to be seen as being way too far outside the purview of government and police.
So long as we support crusaders who pander to the lowest form of prurient interest, so long as entrapment and baiting are acceptable means to turn otherwise law abiding citizens into criminals, so long as we attempt to arrest and prosecute people for their words, there are going to be more dead prosecutors. With them will die a piece of our freedom and liberty and the right to the privacy and lurid nature of our thoughts.