POLL QUESTION

Lawmakers to consider ban on computer-generated child porn

Posted Jan. 29, 2012, at 2:04 p.m.

Poll Question

AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislative leaders have approved consideration of a bill to conform Maine definitions of pornography to federal law. At issue are sophisticated computer programs that can be used to create pornographic images of children that look real, but are not.

Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, got the unanimous support of the ten elected leaders of the legislature to introduce the bill after deadline. He said a recent case in Hancock County led to the measure after a middle school principal told him of an incident at that school.

“Their IT person was arrested for child pornography on their computer and when they delved into it they found it was anime, a cartoon, which is not against Maine law, but is against federal law,” he said.

Langley told leadership his bill, yet to be printed, would simply have Maine law mirror federal law. The measure is sure to generate controversy.

“We looked at that three or four year ago when I was co-chair of the committee,” said Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, the only democratic senator on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “It was controversial then and failed and I think it will be this time.”

He said the committee at that time had trouble identifying a “crime” since no child had been exploited or abused in making the image. He said even though the image looked real, it was not and the state should be concerned about crimes in the real world, not the cyber world.

“With computer graphics the way they are today, you might not even be able to tell the difference between an animated image and a standard photographic image,” said Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Livermore Falls, the co-chairman of the panel. “This is definitely something we should be looking at.”

He said computer programs are available now for free online that rival the quality of the computer generated images in such movies as Avatar. He said when it comes to child pornography, he believes possessing an image from any source that depicts a child engaged in any type of sex act should be against the law.

Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, the House co-chairman of the panel said the committee will take the time to consider the bill. He expects the measure will come to the committee, even though it has yet to be printed and referred.

“We certainly will deal with it and I agree that we are always playing catch up with technology,” he said.

Plummer said once he has the actual language of the bill he will be in a better position to judge whether the measure is needed. He said the fact it is against federal law means persons possessing such materials can be charged and brought to trial under the federal law.

Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, is the lead Democrat on the panel and is a former co-chair. She agreed the committee should spend the time needed to consider the bill, although she shares Gerzofsky’s concerns that the images, however real looking, are not images of real children.

“Where is the victim?” she said. “We have these laws to try and protect children and if a child was not exploited in making it, where is the victim we seek to protect?”

Haskell said the state has outlawed images that are made by manipulating a photo or other images to animate them or change their appearance but are still based on an actual image of a child. She said the difficulty of the issue is reflected in the number of court cases there have been concerning child pornography, and that courts have ruled differently on specific questions.

The lawmakers all said those that prey on children span all ages and demographic groups and are hard to identify until caught. That is backed up by a study done for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children of 1,713 people arrested for the possession of child pornography in a one year period.

It found those in the sample spanned all income, education, marital status and age demographics.

Forty percent of those arrested were “dual offenders,” who sexually victimized children and possessed child pornography, with both crimes discovered in the same investigation.

The measure will likely be scheduled for a public hearing in February.

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