Enjoy child porn? Join the FBI!

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The skepticism of reporter Debbie Nathan, who a long time ago wrote for the Reader, has more than once made me want to stand up and cheer. She didn't buy into the satanic day-care child-abuse hysteria of the 80s, and she wrote articles and a book contradicting it. She showed up in the documentary Capturing the Friedmans as the outsider who thought the state's case against Arnold and Jesse was full of holes. The last time I looked in on Nathan, in March, she was questioning child-porn laws and locking horns with Kurt Eichenwald, who'd written a couple of long stories on the subject for the New York Times that she had issues with.

I was just e-mailed a link to a recent conversation between Nathan and writer/performer Susie Bright posted on 10zenmonkeys.com. Again she rails at laws that pretty much don't let anyone even look at child pornography but the FBI. She tells Bright: "We all know Gonzales is in big shit right now because of a bunch of things including illegal use of the Patriot Act and the firing of all of these attorneys. So he's trying to divert attention by saying, 'Well, I'm not so concerned about all that because I'm still following my agenda, which is to attack this terrible problem of child pornography on the internet.' And when the DOJ puts this stuff out, nobody makes a peep. Because this country, this culture, is so ready to believe anything that the government says about child pornography. And that's why you need people outside of the government to be able to look around on the internet. No one has any idea what's really on the internet except maybe -you know, the FBI. Although I'm not sure what they know either. But they're very quick to make claims. And that's dangerous!"

Bright asks her, "What is it about a community where the beginning of a Salem witch trial is just bobbing underneath the surface?" And Nathan replies that it's always thus. "What's happening right now is a panic about kids and the Internet. And there is a panic about teenagers having sex with each other. Those two things are working off each other. . . . There are moral panics all the time. I mean, there was a moral panic over the telephone when it was first introduced [because] male voices would call up young women in their homes. . . . There was a panic about comic books. There's always a panic about new technology."

Just as I was settling in to the Bright interview, computer bells rang and I discovered a new e-mail from Nathan herself. She was sending out a link to this story from the Washington Post, which reports prosecutors in Pennsylvania  complaining that the defendant in a child pornograpy case was spending way too much time reviewing, as part of the discovery process, the 11,000 videos that were being used as evidence against him. "He appeared to be enjoying himself immensely," an FBI agent testified, during a hearing at which the prosecution asked the judge to limit discovery. FBI agents had been standing outside the door as the defendant and his lawyer went over the evidence, and they had their own TV monitor so they could watch the videos as the defendant did. 

Nathan explained in a note that federal law forbids the defense in child pornography cases to retain visual evidence. "Attorneys and their experts must examine the material at FBI offices," she wrote. "Now comes this case . . . where an attorney trying to establish his defense case is harassed by the prosecution, who--at the FBI office--is spying on the lawyer and his client. . . . This will probably turn into an excuse for another law, denying defense review of the evidence under any circumstances."

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