Good news on the homefront

If DHS has time for kiddie-porn cases, I guess there must not be much of a terrorist threat out there.

See Update for a substantial retraction.

The Department of Homeland Security has the terrorist threat so perfectly under control that it can afford to devote agent time to chasing down Boy Scout officials who like to look at dirty pictures.

Doesn’t that make you feel safe?

Footnote: To satisfy your prurient interest: Married, father of two. Ran the Boy Scouts’ “youth protection” effort. Spoke out in defense of the exclusion of gays from scouting.

Update Andy Sabl strongly dissents:

Shame on you! The guy wasn’t downloading “dirty pictures,” but child pornography. There’s a world of difference, and even an extreme libertarian on sex matters (like me) knows it. If some 19-year-old valley girl wants to knock boots on camera for money, she knows full well what she’s doing—and will be fairly well paid for it, better than the men who do this. The market for the result creates an industry that I wouldn’t particularly want to be associated with but that should clearly be legal.

The market for young boys “engaging in oral sex,” on the other hand, creates an industry devoted to child rape. We should shut down the industry, and the only way to do that I can think of is to shut down the market. (I’m leaving alone the question of whether people who watch child porn become more prone to rape children themselves. I seem to remember, though I’m willing to be corrected, that the evidence on that is surprisingly equivocal. That’s why I think computer-generated pictures that portray kids having sex but involve no actual kids presents a much more difficult case–and one which the Supreme Court ruled on a few years back, I can’t remember which way.)

It’s not just a matter of “market,” either (and of course some people presumably produce child porn for “fun” rather than profit). Look at it this way: a consumer of child pornography is quite simply an accessory after the fact to a serious felony. Anyone who sees a (genuine) picture of child rape and thinks “sexy” rather than “evidence of child rape–call the police” is part of the problem.

I’m enough of a policy person to know that not all parts of a problem are equally easy to address, but that doesn’t mean we should deny that they are parts of it. If you can show that letting accessories to child rape go free is part of efficient law enforcement, I’m all ears. But even that doesn’t rule out non-penal consequences: I’d sure want to keep this guy from leading my son’s scout troop.

So the boy scout leader should go to jail; the people who “posed in” the pictures he saw (i.e., raped little boys) should, if repeat offenders, probably be sent into some sort of child-free exile for life. Should the Department of Homeland Security be involved? No doubt not: this is for the plain old FBI. But your implication that the matter is substantively trivial as well as jurisdictionally inappropriate is, to my mind, a very, very bad call.

Fair enough. I plead guilty to excessive snark.

Shutting down that part of the kiddieporn industry that involves using actual children (as opposed to computer simulations) is clearly an important task, and going after the buyers is clearly one way to attack the industry. The Customs Service (merged with INS and renamed Customs and Border Protection) is part of DHS, which isn’t unreasonable, and since the investigation involved international transfer of kiddieporn it was by its nature a Customs operation.

Still, I’d argue that whatever the right resource level for this activity before 9-11, the right resource level for it today is lower, given that Customs has other fish to fry. If we want to protect kids from sexual exploitation, there’s probably more bang for the buck in discouraging the sex-tourist trade.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: