The Child Porn Computer Virus — Many levels of sacry

11 Aug
The New York Times is reporting on a gentleman in England who was arrested for procession of child pornography. His defense was that the illegal computer files got on to his hard drive through an illicit computer virus known as a trojan horse. He was eventually acquitted when evidence was found that his computer was infected with many viruses. This story in some ways can may serve as a parable about how not securing your computer from viruses and other security vulnerabilities may but you in a dangerous legal position. It also raises serious questions about who is responsible when your computer allegedly does something illegal all on its own. In particular, I think it raises two issues that make this story scary on multiple levels. First, is simply that an innocent man was charged with a crime that carries a social stigma that had him convicted in the court of public opinion the minute the police arrested him. That he was eventually acquitted will do little to reduce the impact. Had he been more aware of the dangers of computer viruses he might have prevented it from happening, but many people continue to be unaware of the dangers and don't even take the most basic forms of protection (especially on Windows computers!!!!!!). Second, it also raises the danger that child pornographers will use the defense that "my computer did it." In the absence of collaborating evidence, like a stack of child pornography on a bedside table, the increasing tech savvy purveyors of this type of pornography may find themselves with a defense strategy, while not full-proof, may provide some an out if they can convince a jury they were the victim. Protecting our computers against viruses thus become not only an issue of personal interest, but one of community interest as well. Since it is relatively easy to write a virus that could do the actions which lead to the Englishman's arrest , it may be time to rethink the paradigm in which we fight them. Much as the government tracks disease in order to prevent dangers to the public's health and requires immunizations in the cases of certain diseases, it may be time for requirements that all computers be equipped with anti-virus software and computer users be required to keep them up-to-date. Although such a proposal may be overkill given the current state of the problem, it is a potential solution that should at least be on the minds of the policy-makers responsible for keeping our technological infrastructure safe. Just as the CDC has contingency plans for the outbreak of an unknown disease, those policy-makers (most likely in the Justice Department and the best government oxymoron. the Department of Homeland Security) should be prepared for the day (and it will come) when computer viruses pose the kind of Orwellien threat implied by this particular case.

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