When is an Internet Search a Crime?

David Lindsey, Attorney at Law
internet crime

Internet search can be a crime

It should come as no surprise that people search for all sorts of things online. The idea of having one’s search history revealed publicly can send chills down the average person’s spine, even if most of their searches are relatively benign.

Despite the awkward nature of most people’s search histories, the majority of searches are perfectly legal. People are searching for information and even if that information is unusual or related to something criminal, the search itself is not a crime.

That said, there are searches that are illegal. There are situations in which simply searching for information online can get you into trouble. Knowing what’s legal and illegal when it comes to internet searches can help you avoid problems.

A good example of an Internet search crime is child pornography.

Viewing many types of pornography online is perfectly legal. As a matter of fact, pornography is one of the most successful online industries in existence. But if pornographic material involves participants under the age of 18, viewing it violates the law.

Just searching for child pornography without actually viewing it can get you arrested for a crime. You also don’t need to download pornographic material with children to be committing a crime. Searching for and viewing the material can result in it being stored in your browser’s cache, which legally could be categorized as possessing child pornography.

What If I Viewed Illegal Pornography by Accident?

Accidentally viewing illegal pornographic material online is not a crime, but proving your actions were accidental can be difficult.

There are many people who stumbled upon child pornography accidentally without intending to look at illegal material, but explaining how you arrived at that point unintentionally can be challenging, not to mention embarrassing.

What Happens If I’m Accused of Viewing Child Pornography Online?

If you search for or view child pornography online, regardless of whether your actions were intentional or accidental, you could face criminal charges. There are laws against child pornography at the federal and state levels, and a conviction related to child porn can result in several years in prison, fines, and other consequences.

A strong criminal defense is your best tool for fighting accusations of child pornography.

Law enforcement and prosecutors could launch an investigation into your activities online if you are accused of possession of illegal pornography. This will involve not only what you were doing in relation to the material in question, but will also include your usual online activities. Your computer will be confiscated and your entire search history will be examined.

Even if you did not actively search for illegal material and the current material in question was acquired or accessed by accident, a previous search that seems suspicious could be used against you.

What about Other Illegal Searches and Material Found Online?

Child pornography is not the only instance in which a person could be accused of a crime based on an internet search. Searches that can be linked to terrorism or acts of public violence can attract the attention of authorities, even if you don’t ever act on the search. Investigators will look at the context of your search, including other searches you’ve conducted, and if they believe you are gathering information with the intention of carrying out an illegal act, it could result in criminal charges.

It is also illegal to obtain copyright protected material using torrent downloading. In many cases, this is much less “scandalous” than looking at child pornography or searching for how to build a bomb, but it’s illegal nonetheless. Downloading, sharing, or streaming copyrighted material online is a violation of federal copyright law. Fines for copyright violations can be steep and it’s possible to spend time in jail. There might also be civil lawsuits filed against you.

For more information on torrent use, check out this article from maketecheasier.com.

Finally, you need to use care if you choose to access the “deep” or “dark” web. Authorities keep careful tabs, as much as they can, on internet activity that takes place on the deep web and simple searches can raise flags and make you the subject of an investigation.

There are endless things you can do, say, read, and view online that are perfectly legal. There are also some things that are illegal and will get you into trouble. If you stumble into one of these questionable situations, either intentionally or by accident, it’s important to have a legal expert on your side.

For more information or to discuss accusations of illegal internet activity with an expert, contact criminal defense attorney David Lindsey to schedule a free consultation.

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