For citizens who want to know what they can do about “broadcast obscenity,” there’s a hotlink to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Web site where you can file an online complaint. http://www.fcc.gov/eb/broadcast/obscind.html.
For citizens who want to know what they can do about obscenity through the U.S. mail, there’s a hotlink to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service Web site where you can file an online complaint. http://www.usps.com/postalinspectors/.
For citizens who want to know “what citizens can do about obscenity,” there’s a hotlink to a private organization’s Web site, www.obscenitycrimes.org, operated by our friends at Morality in Media (MIM). Let me repeat, CEOS, the DOJ office in charge of obscenity enforcement, directs you to a private organization to file an obscenity complaint. In other words, “Don’t bother us!” http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/ceos/childporn_faqs.html.
We’re thankful for, and supportive of, MIM’s work in screening thousands of citizen complaints of online obscenity and forwarding complaints of hard-core pornography to CEOS and the appropriate U.S. Attorney’s office. But who thinks it’s appropriate for the feds to by-pass citizen complaints like this?
Why doesn’t CEOS have a hotlink to the FBI section responsible for investigating obscenity crimes, http://www.fbi.gov/hq/cid/cac/crimesmain.htm or at least the general FBI tipline at https://tips.fbi.gov?
The last time I checked, the Drug Enforcement Agency wasn’t directing citizens concerned about drug enforcement to a Web site operated by citizensagainstdrugs.org, and the Department of Treasury wasn’t directing citizens concerned about counterfeiting to Parker Bros. so they could complain about Monopoly.
By the way, the FBI’s “Internet Crime Complaint Center” has an online complaint form for reporting numerous “white collar” crimes. The list doesn’t mention obscenity. http://www.ic3.gov/crimeschemes.aspx.
The FBI does offer “A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety” that has some helpful information. It includes answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” such as: “My child has received an e-mail advertising for a pornographic website, what should I do?” Answer:
Generally, advertising for an adult, pornographic website that is sent to an e-mail address does not violate federal law or the current laws of most states. In some states it may be a violation of law if the sender knows the recipient is under the age of 18. Such advertising can be reported to your service provider and, if known, the service provider of the originator. It can also be reported to your state and federal legislators, so they can be made aware of the extent of the problem.
How inadequate and misleading is that? Where’s any mention that it’s a federal crime to use interstate commerce, which includes interactive computer services, to send an obscene advertisement via e-mail? If there’s anybody on the planet who hasn’t received a commercial e-mail spam that includes hard-core porn, they probably don’t have a computer.
The FBI answer leaves laymen with the impression that all “adult” porn is legal. There’s also no mention of 18 U.S.C. § 1470, which provides an enhanced penalty for knowingly sending obscene matter to a minor under the age of 16. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has an online complaint form. To date, the Center has logged 4,541 complaints in just over four years.
Why do I get the feeling that the feds don’t take obscenity crimes seriously? It isn’t hard to become a “conspiracy” theorist on this one. How about these clues:
When Alex Acosta, the new interim U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, took steps to implement Gonzales’ “priority,” Acosta’s own staff criticized him in the press. When he told FBI supervisors in Miami in July 2005, that obscenity would be a “top prosecutorial priority” because it is a “mandate” from the attorney general, they were “stunned. ... Acosta has assigned prosecutors porn cases over their objections.” FBI officials told Acosta that “prosecution would have to be handled by the crimes against children unit. But that unit is overworked and would have to take agents off cases of child endangerment to work on adult porn cases.” [Julie Kay, Daily Business Review, August 30, 2005]
The Washington Post reported September 20, 2005, that the Washington, D.C., FBI Field Office had begun “recruiting agents for a new anti-obscenity squad.”
Congress funded an initiative in 2005 that specifies the FBI must devote 10 agents to adult pornography. The Bureau decided it would be a “dedicated squad only in the Washington Field Office.” … The office posted an electronic communication to all 56 field offices, describing the initiative as “one of the top priorities of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, and by extension, of the ‘Director. ’” … One ‘exasperated’ agent, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “I guess this means we’ve won the war on terror.” … “It’s a running joke for us.” … “Things I Don’t Want on My Resume, Volume Four.” “I already gave at home.” “Honestly, most of the guys would have to recuse themselves.” … A Field Office spokeswoman “expressed disappointment” at the “humor” directed at the attorney general “mandate.” [Barton Gellman, Washington Post, September 20, 2005, p. A21]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales didn’t get a chuckle out of it either. Speaking with FBI Director Robert Mueller to hundreds of police chiefs in Miami, Florida, Gonzales “took umbrage at those in law enforcement, including the FBI, who have questioned the Bush administration’s new war on porn — the kind widely marketed to consenting adults.” Gonzales said,
They’ve [Congress] made the decision that dollars should be spent to fight obscenity. When they appropriate money in order for the department to fight crime, we have an obligation to do that. And that’s what we’re doing here. People get the idea that somehow the department with all of its talent can’t do more than one thing at a time. In fact, we can fight the war on terror. And at the same time, we can go after corruption, we can go after corporate fraud, we can go after drugs, we can go after violent gun crimes and we can go after obscenity. [Jay Weaver, Miami Herald, September 27, 2005]
We happen to agree that the DOJ and FBI have many very talented people, and they don’t have to compromise the war on terror in order to enforce obscenity laws. That’s why we expected to see considerable numbers of major pornographers cooling their heels in federal prison instead of laughing all the way to the bank after six-years of this administration. We think that saving kids from victimization and becoming victimizers is something any agent would be proud to have on their resume.
Last June, I directed a legal intern to make some calls to various FBI field offices across the country, identify herself as a free-lance writer and ask the following questions:
Does the office have an agent assigned to investigate complaints about pornography?
If yes, may I speak to him or her, please?
If no, may I speak with a supervising agent?
Do you investigate pornography complaints?
Do you investigate adult obscenity or just child pornography?
If you find adult obscenity that you think violates federal law, where do you refer it for possible prosecution?
The FBI Web site lists federal obscenity statutes that the FBI is supposed to enforce. Isn’t your office supposed to investigate adult obscenity as well as child pornography?
What follows are her notes, written at the time of making each call:
Los Angeles: I spoke with Cathy Viray, an FBI spokeswoman on June 28, 2006. Viray didn’t seem to understand why I would be asking the FBI about Internet obscenity. I mentioned the directive of the DOJ and asked what the L.A. office was doing to enforce the directive. Viray then seemed anxious to pawn me off on the Washington, D.C. office. First, she told me that she would defer to federal headquarters, since they would know more about a federal directive. Then she told me that she could assist me but not without going through the “chain of command.” She said she needed the “go ahead” from someone in D.C. and indicated that this was standard procedure. She gave me a number for Paul Bresson and told me he would give me permission to speak to the L.A. office. However, she also kept mentioning that the D.C. office might have more information for me. I got the distinct impression that she was really just looking for an excuse not to talk to me.
Washington, D.C.: I spoke with Paul Bresson, a spokesman for the national FBI office, on June 28. Bresson initially seemed surprised that Viray had directed me to him. He told me that this was not the normal procedure and that he didn’t know why I would need permission to talk to the L.A. office. When I asked who was in charge of investigating Internet obscenity crimes, he was unable to name any one person or department and said that “Cybersquad” might have some role in it. On June 30, I called Director Mueller’s office for comment and was directed again to Bresson. On July 5, I attempted to get a comment from [James H.] Burrus regarding his testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee and was directed to Stephen Kodak. Kodak told me to send him an e-mail with my questions, which he would give to Burrus. I have not yet received a response. [On January 19, 2006, Burrus told the Committee: “The FBI is taking an aggressive course of action in the area of obscenity.” www.fbi.gov/congress/congress06/burrus011906.htm.]
Miami: I spoke to Ricardo Enriquez [sic], a media representative, on June 28, who told me that as far as he knew, their office only investigated child pornography, but he would check with someone in Crimes Against Children.
Phoenix: Agent Debra McCarley responded to a message on June 28. She said that the obscenity investigations done by the Phoenix office are mainly focused on child pornography and that their office is very active in that area. When I mentioned that the attorney general had announced that Internet obscenity was a national priority, she named the five official FBI priorities that are listed on the Web site: “terrorism, espionage, cyber-based attacks, public corruption, and civil rights.” She said there was no task force specified for such investigations, and she didn’t know how they would be handled. McCarley said that after receiving my message she had checked with the cyber program agents before returning my call and that they hadn’t done anything specifically with Internet pornography. When I mentioned the DOJ directive again, McCarley said she remembered that obscenity “was spoken about” and that federal law enforcement had been directed to “look into that.” McCarley told me about an Internet spam case that the Phoenix office had been involved in. Although it did involve obscenity charges, it was only prosecuted under the CAN-SPAM Act.
Buffalo: Paul Moskal, in the public affairs office, left me a message on June 28, saying: “I’m not sure if we do that [enforce obscenity statutes] or are charged by law with doing that.” He also said they “limit [themselves] with respect to child pornography cases, which is a federal statute … not local obscenity per se.”
Atlanta: Agent Stephen Emmett told me on June 29 that they don’t investigate obscenity, only federal crimes. When I asked if they investigate federal obscenity crimes, he said they investigate what federal law charges them with investigating.
Sacramento: Agent John Cauthen told me on June 29 that he was a good person to talk to because he actually worked in the Cyber division of the office. He told me that they focus on Internet crimes involving child pornography and that he was “not aware of any” other obscenity cases. The bottom line from Cauthen was that they did not have the resources to do anything about obscenity.
New York City, Las Vegas and Tampa: I left messages on June 28, but my calls haven’t been returned.
All of which brings us back to the “Budgeting Wars.” Attorney General Gonzales released a statement about the President’s 2007 budget, which begins: “DOJ is committed to fighting child pornography and obscenity, protecting children from trafficking, and preventing all forms of child exploitation.”
Gonzales notes: “In total, the budget provides $25.4 million in program increases for crimes against children and obscenity,” which he calls one of DOJ’s “major priorities.” Specifically, “the budget provides program increases totaling $12.5 million for Attorney General Gonzales’ Project Safe Childhood initiative, which targets purveyors of child pornography and obscenity.”
At this point, we think somebody in Congress should require quarterly progress reports that account for how a good part of a $25.4 million dollar increase for crimes against children and obscenity is actually being used for obscenity enforcement and that somebody should be aware that when CEOS has reported “40 obscenity indictments,” it’s counting individuals, not separate cases. Some cases have multiple defendants, and several began as child pornography investigations that were allowed to plead down to an obscenity charge.
At a White House gathering on October 23, 2002, those of us present, including FBI director Robert Mueller, heard President Bush express his concern about the availability of Internet obscenity to children:
A technology that brings knowledge also brings obscenity and danger. Until recently, the worst kind of pornography was mainly limited to red-light districts or restricted to adults or confined by geography, isolated by shame. … Every day, millions of children log on to the Internet, and every day we learn more about the evil of the world that has crept into it. In a single year, one in four children between the ages of 10 and 17 is voluntarily — involuntarily exposed to pornography. … We’ve got a widespread problem, and we’re going to deal with it.
So, in our umpteenth attempt to make dealing with it a reality, we’re awaiting responses to requests to meet with President Bush and FBI director Mueller.
You might want to join us at the windows.