Georgia professor returns from China with child porn

Computer technology has made it almost impossible to hide illegal activity on the internet such as looking at and possessing sexually explicit images of children. Georgia has kept up with technological advances by amending its child porn laws to make sure individuals in violation of the laws are detected and prosecuted. One focus of the law is adjusting the definition of "possession" to reflect the different ways one may view images located on a computer.

In the case of State v. Al-Khayyal, a Georgia Institute of Technology professor found out the reach of the laws when he tried to delete files containing pornographic images of children from his computer. After returning from teaching in China and getting caught up in an investigation into child porn there, he used his advanced knowledge of computers to place some of the illegal files into his trash folder and then empty it, so that the files were "double deleted." Unfortunately for him, other files which he "deleted" actually were saved in his trash folder.

Deleted images come back to haunt

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted a forensic examination of the professor's computer which had been seized by immigration control officials at the Atlanta airport. They discovered many files containing child porn in his laptop's trash files, but the files were in a compressed format which could only be viewed using a program which was not loaded on the computer. The software that could be used to view the files was readily accessible to the public, and required no specialized knowledge to use.

Under the law, officials must prove that the child porn was "knowingly" possessed and controlled, and the professor claimed that he was not in knowing possession and control of the images while in Georgia. He said he had done "everything he could to discard the [illegal] images and terminate his possession" and that the steps he took before returning to the United States rendered the images "totally inaccessible."

Storage media cases allow proof of offense with multiple formats

The appellate court reviewed traditional concepts in the prosecution of child porn cases, with the classic example being a photograph depicting minors in sexually explicit situations. In our modern times, such images in digital form can be generated from various storage media, and convictions have been upheld in Georgia based on images found on a videotape, DVD, compact disc and USB flash drive containing illegal images.

Even though additional machinery or software would be needed to view the illegal images, the offense of possession of child pornography does not depend on the defendant's present ability to view the images stored on his computer. The professor in the Al-Khayall case was in constructive, if not actual, possession of his laptop with the deleted images still able to be viewed with readily available software. Evidence that the professor had double-deleted other files, as well as his professional expertise permitted the court to infer that he knew that the compressed files were still available in his trash folder until he took further action to delete them.

Georgia and federal law both provide harsh penalties for sex crimes convictions. Even an accusation of child porn can ruin a person's reputation and brand him or her for life, and investigative techniques are very sophisticated, as shown in this case. A person facing such accusations should immediately seek representation from an attorney experienced in federal as well as state criminal courts, who will make the prosecution prove every element of the offense.