Project Safe Childhood, is a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. The project uses federal, state and local resources to locate and prosecute individuals who exploit children through the Internet. (Source).
According to Grant Gross’ IDG News Service article, a U.S. motivational speaker who took his laptop computer to a Best Buy store for service has been sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison for transporting child pornography, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday. (Source)
According to the Department of Justice,
Fortino frequently traveled across the country as a self-employed author, speaker and media personality, often bringing his laptop with him. He took his laptop to a Fayetteville, Arkansas, Best Buy Co. store in November 2005 after he found that it was not working properly.
According to the article,
Best Buy computer technicians discovered several images of what they believed to be child pornography and alerted local police. A forensic review of Fortino’s computer by the Fayetteville Police Department found that he had visited Web sites containing child pornography on multiple occasions and often saved images from those sites to his computer, the DOJ said. Police found hundreds of child pornography images on the laptop, as well as several video files from a hidden video camera Fortino had placed in a bedroom on his personal boat, the DOJ said.
Now I don’t have an issue with this defendant pleading guilty to the charges and being sentenced to 11 years in prison for his crime. That doesn’t disturb me a bit. I am all for protecting children and the prosecution of those who knowingly and/or intentionally seek, view, display, disseminate or create such materials.
The issue I have is with the Best Buy Geek Squad searching this man’s computer. Who else’s computers have been searched without the owners knowing? If we deputize local computer repair guys as government agents to search through people’s files, what does that mean? Doesn’t that make them government actors, especially if they are working in coordination with local and national law enforcement as informants in “Project Safe Childhood”? If that’s the case, and these people are agents of law enforcement, where’s the probable cause for the search?
Now, it seems from the evidence and information presented in the article that Fortino knew and intended to do what he did. But, in this day and age where so much information flies though the internet any bit of unsolicited, and illegal information, could end up on one’s computer. Any one of us could wind up in this same position if a computer repair geek guesses wrong about the age of a model on one of our hard drives. Even more so, deputizing the repair guy to be extra eyes and ears of the government could spill over into obscenity prosecutions, or even anti government info? This form of enforcement is not limited to investigations of child pornography and it flies in the face of the 4th Amendment. Where does it end?