Frequently Asked Questions about Internet Crime

Q: Is spam illegal?

A: Spam (unsolicited, typically commercial e-mail) is not illegal, but it is regulated. The federal CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act) regulates commercial e-mail. It prohibits certain deceptive practices and requires that commercial e-mails contain a way to opt out. Some states also have laws on spam.

Q: If I install filtering software on our home computer, is that enough to protect my kids?

A: While protective software is a start, it is only a first step. Your children can access computers from locations outside the home, and filtering software is not 100% effective. Speak with your children about the dangers of the Internet and make sure they know what to do in difficult or dangerous situations.

Q: My computer automatically forwarded an e-mail that had a virus attached to it, but I did not know the virus was there. Can I be prosecuted for distributing a virus?

A: No. The law prohibits knowingly sending out a virus. If you did not know that the virus was being sent out, and you had no part in the creation of the virus, you are not criminally liable.

Q: If I put a disclaimer on my Web site that says nothing on the site is meant to infringe anyone else's copyright, will that be a defense to a copyright infringement prosecution?

A: No. Such disclaimers may even help to prove that the Web site operator knew his or her conduct was unlawful, thus helping the prosecution to make its case that the infringement was done knowingly.

Q: I took some pictures of my toddler in the bathtub. Am I guilty of distributing child pornography if I e-mail these pictures my family?

A: It is unlikely. While there are stories about people being investigated or prosecuted on child pornography charges for taking innocent snapshots of their children, these cases do not result in the conviction of the parents who took the pictures. A picture like this, which does not include "lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area" (sexual conduct according to federal law), does not fall within the federal definition of child pornography.

Q: Who makes the laws that govern the Internet?

A: There is no single authority that governs the entire Internet because the Internet's reach extends across the world. US federal and state governments have enacted laws applicable to certain transactions and interactions that take place over the Internet. If something is illegal in the real world, it is likely to be illegal on the Internet.

Q: Where do I report an Internet crime?

A: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) have teamed up to create the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). IC3 processes complaints and refers them to the appropriate agencies. You can also contact the FBI directly concerning child pornography or child exploitation; the FBI or US Secret Service concerning financial or banking crimes (such as "4-1-9 scams"); and the FBI, US Secret Service or Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concerning fraud crimes.

Q: If a law enforcement official poses as a minor on a chat site and someone solicits the official for sexual purposes, believing that the official is a minor isn't that entrapment?

A: Probably not. Most of the time, this tactic holds up in court. The outcome of each case, however, depends on its unique circumstances.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.