In 2004, two Florida adolescents–16-year-old Amber and 17-year-old Jeremy–took digital photos of themselves nude and engaged in some sort of sexual contact. They then sent the photos from a computer at Amber’s house to Jeremy’s email address. Somehow, the Tallahassee police got possession of the photos, and both Amber and Jeremy were arrested and charged with producing, directing or promoting a photograph featuring the sexual conduct of a child. Jeremy was also charged with possession of child pornography.
Amber appealed the charge, believing she had the law on her side. In 1995, a Florida court ruled that two 16-year-olds could not be found delinquent for having sex with each other. Since Amber was engaged in legal sex, she and her attorney reasoned that the police had violated her guaranteed right to privacy.
Remember this (edited) exchange between Alice and the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass?
“Suppose he never commits the crime?”
“That would be all the better, wouldn’t it?”
“Of course it would be all the better, but it wouldn’t be all the better his being punished.”
“You’re wrong there, at any rate. Were you ever punished?”
“Only for faults.”
“And you were all the better for it, I know!”
“Yes, but then I had done the things I was punished for. That makes all the difference.”
“But if you hadn’t done them, that would have been better still; better, and better, and better!”
This month, a Florida Appeals Court voted 2-1 to uphold the charge against Amber. Writing for the majority, Judge James R. Wolf, speculated that both Amber and Jeremy could have eventually sold the photos to child pornographers or shown them to friends. He also said that transferring the digital images from a camera to a computer and then sending them via email created “innumerable problems” because the computers could be hacked.
Judge Wolf’s reasoning must make every Florida parent with photos of their naked children a bit uncomfortable. After all, they might show the photos to friends, and those friends might even sell them to child pornographers. Or one might slip out a of parent’s pocket or purse and be picked up by a stranger, who could then sell it to a child pornographer. And who knows how many parents with photos of their naked toddlers might become child pornographers?
Amber and Jeremy are too young to be listed on a sex offender registry, thank goodness, but there is no doubt that their privacy was violated, and there is no telling what kind of psychological effect this circus has had on them.