Thursday, October 15, 2015

Can you trust StopItNow's Anti-CP campaign?

The UK branch of StopItNow has launched <a campaign> to help people stop looking at child pornography. At its heart is a set of web-based modules that can be accessed anonymously. This is an exciting and promising new initiative -- subject to one huge caveat

There are excellent reasons to stop looking at child pornography. Legal risk is high on the list. Interfering with one's personal values and life priorities is another. There are others.

A web interface seems great for a couple reasons. One is that it avoids the shame of admitting to another human being what you are struggling with. It is also available worldwide without toll charges. It can be done in snippets -- you can start any time and resume on your own schedule -- including your emotional schedule of what you can handle.

My first and biggest concern is security. Child pornography possession outrages ordinary people, which translates into elected officials and law enforcement vigorously prosecuting those who have it. The nightmare scenario is that those who have a CP-viewing problem will visit the site, comforted by a guarantee of anonymity, law enforcement will keep a careful list, and when they have collected identifying information for hundreds or thousands of people, will then use that information as the basis of investigations -- perhaps even probable cause for searches.

Until this issue is adequately addressed, I would have to encourage any and all people to not visit this part of the website -- those who have viewed illegal CP and those who have not. If it is adequately addressed, I think this should be an excellent resource.

On the welcome page to this StopItNow program, it says, "We keep NO details or information that can identify the people who access this site." I'm inclined to think they are telling the truth (though I am not certain of it). However, the ways of the internet are complicated and mysterious to most of us. Based on Edward Snowden's revelations, we know government surveillance can be very intrusive. The idea that law enforcement in the service of child pornography investigations does not have the resources of the US NSA is little comfort, since they may acquire more in the future, or the relevant technology may get cheaper. This information may be collected without StopItNow's knowledge.

StopItNow may understandably be unwilling or unable to give assurances as to what the police will do in secret. However, they do have control over the content of their website, and it has a big problem. The assumption in the text is that anyone looking at this material HAS in fact looked at illegal images of children. They have committed a crime. Visiting this part of the website (or not leaving) can be taken as an admission that you have committed a crime.

The welcome messages include, "Welcome to the section of this website for people who are concerned about their online viewing of sexual images of children." Later, "Perhaps you have already stopped looking at sexual images of children; or perhaps not. Maybe you are under investigation by the police; or possibly nobody knows about your online behaviour."

There is no welcome message for, "Perhaps you aren't sure whether the images you look at are legal or not". There is no message for, "Perhaps you are afraid that your viewing of legal images will lead you to view illegal images". There is no message for, "Perhaps you want to stop looking at images because this activity adversely affects your life -- even though they are legal images." There is no message for, "Perhaps you want to see for yourself what the process of dealing with this problem is and what we would recommend based on different people's situations."

Indicating that all of these are reasons to visit this part of the site would go a long way to defusing the idea that anyone working through these exercises is admitting to criminal activity.

I have many other criticisms of the contents of the StopItNow material, but none of them would interfere with my enthusiastically suggesting that people who have a CP-viewing problem use it. Security does.


  1. For the most part, I'm supportive of Stop It Now, but they are far from perfect. They have engaged in a few misguided campaigns over the years.

  2. on the page ( they say:

    "Access to any images of children is illegal if they are being accessed to satisfy sexual needs. This includes nude, semi-nude and clothed images of children, even if they aren’t depicting a sexual situation. The police will investigate the possession of multiple images of clothed children."

    The implications of this are mind-bogglingly terrifying - it means that someone who can be shown to be a paedophile - celibate or not, user of what is child porn or not - can, in theory, be prosecuted for child porn offenses if he (or she) has ANY images of children in their possession. This could include chaste and clothed images of one's own children, legitimate films with child actors, including films made for children, or newspapers and magazines which may have one or two photos of children in an advert somewhere.

    This, given how hard it would be to keeps one's house and life entirely free of any representation of a child, effectively means that anyone who can be shown to be a paedophile can be prosecuted for child porn offenses - thus making simply BEING a paedophile a crime - the holy grail of the anti-paedophile mob.

    But I think this Web-site is being dishonest and disingenuous. It's not for nothing that they preface the above quote with

    "We believe that there is NO GREY AREA:"

    That 'we believe' suggests that this is their wish, their stance, not the one of UK law. Not yet anyway. Hopefully..

    But on the same issue a court in Holland has just convicted a man on the basis that a film he had in his possession was not Child Pornography per se, but became Child Porn because it was viewed by a paedophile.

    1. This is indeed a worrying development.

      In UK Law, for the prosecution to be able to prove that someone has committed an offence they are usually required to prove that the crime has actually taken place, 'Actus Reus', and that there was intent to commit it, 'Mens Rea'. I say "usually" because in certain situations, such as possession, the Mens Rea is seen to be unnecessary; eg. simply being in possession of a proscribed material (like CP, sorry CAM, for example) is a crime, therefore the intent is irrelevant. Even though, I would suggest, anyone (like CEOP) who has been given "license" to obtain and store CP can be shown to be acting outside the law IMO, but that's a different point.

      What this ruling would suggest is the opposite. That the 'Mens Rea' is sufficient to bring about a conviction, regardless of the fact that this is purely subjective. It makes no difference, apparently, that just because a "reasonable man" would not find the material obscene, it doesn't mean it isn't?

      That doesn't make sense. First of all; the whole point of the "reasonable man" hypothesis is to make a distinction, however arbitrary, enabling subjective argument to become objective "fact". Today, this is interpreted as "based on the recognised standards of proprietary", but it effectively means the same thing.

      I guess, there are many who would applaude this "by hook or by crook" approach. Self-righteously approving the rounding up and prosecution of anyone who doesn't regard "children" as sanitised material reserved purely for future productive assignment in our quasi-Stepford society, no doubt unimpressed with the idea of "due process of Law".

  3. I agree with most of your points. You comment moved me to publish the draft I had been working on pertaining to the content of the program: