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Online child pornography and selfies -- a dangerous combination

The proliferation of cellphones and other portable devices that can take and transmit photographs has given rise to a new form of child pornography -- the taking and transmitting of photographs of minor children via the Internet. A selfie, as most people in Massachusetts know, is a self-portrait photograph taken with a cellphone. The growing use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, has led to the widespread distribution of selfies and other photos taken with cellphone cameras. Unfortunately, some people have chosen to exploit the use of cellphones to create and circulate pornographic photos of minor children.

Every state and the federal government has laws forbidding the creation of child pornography and penalizing the creation and sale of child pornography. The precise definition of the crime may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor. Massachusetts added participation with lascivious intent to its definition of child pornography.

Most child pornography statutes were drafted to protect minors from exploitation by adults. In the modern age, however, a great many photos that satisfy various definitions of pornography are taken and circulated by minors. A common example is a teenage girl taking a revealing selfie and sending it to her boyfriend. Anyone who receives or sends the photo -- including the girlfriend and the initial recipient -- has committed a child pornography felony. Defining possession of pornography in the digital age has become difficult with the widespread use of storage media such as the cloud. States appear to be broadening their definitions of child pornography and the various uses of it that constitute a crime.

The laws relating to child pornography and courts' interpretation of them are changing rapidly. Anyone who is charged with a crime relating to online child pornography may want to make sure they understand the latest developments in the law on this subject so they can evaluate what defense options are available in their case.

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