Sunday, November 1, 2015

On StopItNow -- Vengeance Still Lurks

The <StopItNow campaign> modules get to the point where a person has stopped looking at CP, and they can <congratulate themselves>. It does not address what a person should do about images they have stored on their computer.

Deleting such images is an obvious step in reducing temptation. Why is it not listed?

Among the motivations to stop are <the consequences of being convicted of CP possession>. If you are to take full benefit of that, you presumably need to stop possessing CP. That means not just deleting files, but deleting them securely -- deleted files are an instance of CP possession, and if police find them that is enough evidence for a conviction.

I wrote to Donald Findlater on October 22 (ten days ago), and included this as sample text he could include in the description of the program:
The legal consequences of possessing child pornography are serious. The best way to avoid them is to never access or download any child pornography. But what if you have in the past, and have decided you never will again? To avoid possession of child pornography, you need to delete any files you have saved. You may think that by deleting files, you are no longer in possession. However, deleted files are often not really gone, and police can detect them. To really make sure you are no longer in possession of CP, search the web for "how to securely delete files" and use one of the recommended methods. Alternatively, if you can afford it, destroy your old computers (and any backup media) and buy new ones. It's a safe way to accomplish this end. Keeping your computer completely clean even of deleted files is a good motivation for avoiding any backsliding.

I haven't heard back from him.

What's going on here?

One possibility is that they have defined a scope for their project that does not include anything technical. I didn't see anything about using parental control software either, for instance.

Another possibility is they figure they would run afoul of law enforcement, who might see this as aiding and abetting the crime. It is true that secure file deletion could also help people cover their tracks even if they continue to look at CP.

I gather that this entire initiative has upset conservative forces in society who feel it is being soft on pedophiles. Perhaps omitting any mention of this issue is a compromise to avoid a fiercer backlash.

And it's true that this program could help pedophiles stop viewing CP, which would be a good thing. It is far better that the program exist in its current form than not exist at all. I am inclined to think that the people who made this program mean well.

Still, I think it's worth an honest look at the total effect of the program on CP viewers who complete it.

Whatever the intentions, the net effect of the StopItNow campaign is two-fold. On the one hand, they are warm, friendly and compassionate in helping you stop committing future crime. On the other, they do not give the simplest instructions for how to stop committing the ongoing crime of CP possession. And they will give you no help in avoiding your exposure to legal consequences for your past crimes -- a reward you might hope for if you actually stop.

When they describe the criminal penalties for CP possession and imply that stopping will avoid them, they are being quite misleading. An honest statement would be that you can avoid compounding your criminal exposure by stopping, but you are still liable for past crimes.


  1. There might be legal problems with advising people to destroy evidence.

    1. Thanks for that thought. There are tricky issues there.

      Surely it can't be wrong to tell people to get rid of illegal drugs they possess because it destroys evidence that they did in the past possess them?

      Perhaps someone could argue that deleted files are not actual CP possession -- they are just evidence of past CP possession. Maybe someone with legal knowledge could enlighten us.

      What's more, can a blanket suggestion to the world at large (rather than some individual who is under suspicion) of how to get rid of evidence of wrongdoing be a legal problem? Without being a huge infringement on freedom of speech?