back to article Mid-flight jumbo font smartphone text shock sparks kid abuse arrests

Two people have been charged with child molestation after their texts allegedly discussing sexually abusing kids were spotted and reported by a preschool teacher. Who was sitting behind one of them. On an airplane. And the messages were in a huge font. The unnamed hero was on a Southwest Airlines flight from Seattle, …

  1. Commswonk Silver badge

    Kudos to this young lady. She went a step farther," Sergeant Brian Spears, commander of the San Jose police's Internet Crimes Against Children task force, told the San Jose Mercury News, regarding the teacher

    Why do I get the uncomfortable feeling that if this had happened in the UK she would have found herself locked up as well.

    Or worse still, instead.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Why do I get the uncomfortable feeling that if this had happened in the UK she would have found herself locked up as well."

    I very much doubt she would.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spying on other people for the authorities will soon be enshrined in law.

    Fear not citizen.

    I applaud her actions, I'm not sure I would have done the same without administering some justice first myself but each to their own. I'm sure I'll get some downvotes for this comment but at the end of the day a nonce gets what a nonce deserves. A good elbow to the face "by accident" on a plane is not unheard of.

    Edit: Just to be clear I don't think violence is the answer unless the question is what is a word beginning with V that is behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why do I get the uncomfortable feeling that if this had happened in the UK she would have found herself locked up as well.

    Come on, it was a flight. Not a party conference.

  5. Danny 14 Silver badge

    No. In the uk teachers are expected to be on the lookout. All part of safeguarding training.

  6. Lee D Silver badge

    Technically, if she took a photo of a dodgy photo, she could be convicted of creation of child pornography. I kid you not. And, no, it's not guaranteed that she would be let off of doing so (you think HIS lawyers wouldn't be instructed to argue for that, out of spite?).

    Which is why that's a stupid law, when it doesn't distinguish between creation, deliberate reproduction, and merely viewing. According to UK law, the act of clicking on an unknown link, being shown said category of images and pulling the plug on your computer out of horror is still technically "creation" of said images (they argue that you requested it to make a temporary copy in RAM and all sorts of nonsense).

    It's designed to make you SO SCARED of going near such things that you never will, but it has resulted in literal convictions of innocent people.

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. Adam 52 Silver badge

    "Which is why that's a stupid law, when it doesn't distinguish between creation, deliberate reproduction, and merely viewing."

    The original legislation did, and still does, distinguish. Viewing is still different, it's only viewing by making a copy inside a computer that's considered making.

    Making was added an 1997 in an attempt to criminalise distribution.

    Prosectors and a judges have interpreted "to make" rather literally in the past 20 years, and now we have the situation you describe where any copying, including within a CPU is considered making.

    It's the same legal principle that lets copyright law cover *using* software and not just reproducing it.

  9. Westie70

    Slip of the wrist

    Quote:

    "I applaud her actions, I'm not sure I would have done the same without administering some justice first myself but each to their own. I'm sure I'll get some downvotes for this comment but at the end of the day a nonce gets what a nonce deserves. A good elbow to the face "by accident" on a plane is not unheard of."

    I find it difficult to imagine a scenario where you could slip and accidentally castrate either of them.

  10. Zuagroasta

    Re: Slip of the wrist

    Lack of imagination. Ask the helpful cabin crew for a leftover bottle or can, create your own very sharp implement with said can, a bit of elbow grease and some time, and "trip" hand first into the perp's nads. Nothing to see here officer, purely reflex arm extension to break my fall.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nosey Parker!

    Good on ya!

  12. elDog Silver badge

    Just equip all the kids with body cameras?

    With CRISPR technologies we should be able to make our eyeballs and other organs part of the apparatus.

  13. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    Re: Just equip all the kids with body cameras?

    There's nothing CRISPR can do that we could not already do before. It's just more convenient in some cases.

  14. TheElder

    Two people have been charged

    The bell curve has two sides.

  15. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Re: Two people have been charged

    Also, there are four lights.

  16. scrubber Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    Did they do anything?

    Were they planning anything?

    Can you prove it beyond a reasonable doubt?

    Would someone writing or reading Lolita be treated the same?

    Would someone reading a Qu'ran be treated the same? Kidding, of course they would.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    In what f*cking world does freedom of speech allow you to discuss abusing children?

    The article clearly states "Two children have been taken into protective custody following the arrests at the end of July."

    I'm all for freedom of speech but it has limits and you stupid yanks use it as a free pass to be <insert expletive>

  18. Jamie Jones Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @scrubber

    Is that seriously how your mind works?

    The text messages were sufficient cause for an investigation.

    That's how investigations start.

    If it had turned out they were actors practicing their role in some new anti-child abuse movie (or whatever other far-fetched excuse you can think of), then obviously the result of the investion would be different.

    Seriously, if someone had been overheard plotting a terrorist attack, or murdering someone, and the police didn't investigate because "well, he was just talking, not doing" would you think that was a reasonable response if it turned out one of your family members was the victim?

    Incidentally, long story, but many years ago I accidentally (i.e. I wasn't looking for it) found someone distributing hard core child porn via a server I used. I reported it, and the Uk police followed up. A few weeks later, i got a phone call to tell me that my information had led them to someone who had sick child porn on his computer. and photos pinned up on his walls, and from his personal diary it was probably not long before he would act personally on his feelings.

    He would be prosecuted, and there was enough evidence that I wouldn't be needed as any sort of witness.

    I don't know if they would have ever told me his name - unfortunately I didn't get a chance to ask, because I was out and someone else took a message for me.

    My point is, do you think they would prosecute someone just on the basis of "some email from some random internet geek?"

  19. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    "Did they do anything?

    Were they planning anything?"

    Yes, apparently, based on the contents of the text messages, which were sufficiently dire to get the SJ police to get a warrant issues in another state.

    "Can you prove it beyond a reasonable doubt?"

    That's what the jury trial is for.

    "Would someone writing or reading Lolita be treated the same?"

    Possibly but not necessarily. These events took place in San Jose, California, and Tacoma, Washington, not West Banjotown, Kentucky. Presumably, the cops have better things to do in those cities than arrest someone for reading a well-known work of fiction.

    "Would someone reading a Qu'ran be treated the same? Kidding, of course they would."

    See my point immediately preceding this one. "Preceding" means "before," a point I feel compelled to mention since your post gives me little confidence in your intelligence or education.

  20. Big John Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    So, you characterize the Qu'ran as a "well-known work of fiction?" Interesting... ;-/

  21. scrubber Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @AC: "I'm all for freedom of speech but..."

    Clearly you're not.

    I already mentioned Lolita, which is now regarded as a classic as opposed to the UK government's classification as child porn.

    "The article clearly states "Two children have been taken into protective custody following the arrests at the end of July.""

    Arrests, not convictions. The backslapping over whether this was a good move or not should wait until the trial is over, no? If there was nothing untoward then this person has misread a situation and had children taken away from parents, potentially never to be returned. So perhaps alleged news outlets like El Reg can refrain from such fucking bullshit as "The unnamed hero" until we find out if she is a hero or a family wrecking snooper, no?

  22. scrubber Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @Jamie Jones

    "Is that seriously how your mind works?"

    Innocent until proven guilty? Funnily enough, yes it is.

    "My point is, do you think they would prosecute someone just on the basis of "some email from some random internet geek?""

    Yes! Abso-fucking-lutely. They tried to pin a terrorist charge on the Robin Hood airport guy. They pin child porn charges on people with adult material because the girl "looks as if she might be under 18 - even though she's proven to be older, and you could actually have sex with her if she was 16! Not to mention this is in the states where they will charge you with huge felonies just to get a guilty plea to a lesser charge. And they plant evidence, routinely. Don't go thinking all arrests are of guilty people, or that all convicted people are actually guilty, especially in the US.

  23. scrubber Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @Throatwarbler Mangrove

    "That's what the jury trial is for."

    Are you joking? This is never going to be a jury trial. They're being accused of attempted child abuse, with probably bugger all evidence apart from some chats, and so they'll plead it down to some kind of child neglect or obscenity nonsense, enough to get a little jail time and the kids removed to an ostensibly safe environment.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    The article clearly states "Two children have been taken into protective custody following the arrests at the end of July."

    And of course the CPS doesn't have a long and storied history of - often maliciously - taking children into custody over the slightest of fantasies. Perhaps the sanatic abuse panic rings a bell? Or any number of other scandals on both sides of the atlantic, that resulted in thousands of children being snatched from their entirely innocent parents, on the flimsiest of manufactured evidence, and left to rot for years in foster homes?

  25. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    Freedom of Speech does not mean there will never be negative consequences from what one says. It says one has the right to say anything without prior government permission. What is said may be incriminating and lands one's carcass in the pokey. In this case, an idiot was in a semi-public area texting about abusing children and got spotted by a bystander who took action. Not overly impressed with the idiot's brain power.

  26. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    "Would someone writing or reading Lolita be treated the same?"

    It is still considered child porn in some jurisdictions. The fact that UK has stopped classifying it as such is not universal.

  27. Jack of Shadows Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    Asserting one's Rights and Freedoms as well as assenting to the exercise of such by another isn't responsibility free. There's an encyclopedia's contents here surrounding just such jurisprudence. One of my rather well thumbed books.*

    * - The Oxford Encyclopedia on the Supreme Court.

  28. scrubber Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @a_yank_lurker

    Freedom of speech means that you can say anything not covered by existing statutes (incitement, coercion to commit violence, preparation to commit a crime etc.) and there will be no consequences* from the government.

    But why trust a yank on the First Amendment, the majority are in favour of abandoning the majority of it to allow the executive branch unfettered control when their guy is in charge.

    * Except possible investigation to ensure there was no breach of of existing laws - but this cannot be excessive or punitive.

  29. scrubber Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    For all you lovely downvoters, just remember the US is prosecuting underage girls for producing child porn for sexting their boyfriends. They often put this out there in order to get them to accept to lesser charges - again for sending pictures of themselves to their boyfriend.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    Seriously, if someone had been overheard plotting a terrorist attack, or murdering someone, and the police didn't investigate because "well, he was just talking, not doing" would you think that was a reasonable response

    And yet when the person arrested at the airport is British and accused of writing criminal malware, the reaction here is an outpouring of righteous indignation that the wicked USA dare react to a report of a crime by bringing the accused in front of a court?

  31. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    "They tried to pin a terrorist charge on the Robin Hood airport guy."

    Frankly, if someone tweets a bomb threat about an airport it has to be taken seriously. Would you want to be the one responsible for dismissing a genuine threat as a joke?

    If it was meant as a joke then while charging him with terrorism might have been over the top it at least merited a charge of wasting police time.

  32. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    "Freedom of speech means that you can say anything not covered by existing statutes"

    I think any sort of conspiracy would be covered by existing statutes.

  33. Chris G Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @scrubber So to sum up, you think because for a number of possible reasons innocent people could get i to trouble or guilty people may not get into enough trouble, it would be better to have done nothing.

    Are you just stupid or just trolling?

    The justice systems of most countries may not be perfect but that is why they have appeals systems.

  34. handleoclast Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @AC

    In what f*cking world does freedom of speech allow you to discuss abusing children?

    We appear to be discussing the matter right here. Are you arguing that you, personally, should be imprisoned for doing so?

    Do you now understand the precision required in drafting laws?

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @handleoclast

    Oh come on, we're discussing the acts of others, I can't imagine the content of the text that led the woman to report him on the flight and we certainly aren't discussing abusing children therefore your argument is flawed.

    You are correct in the precision of drafting laws however the carte blanche caveat that freedom of speech gives to people is abused on a daily basis. Don't ask me how you fix it because I have no idea as removing freedoms in my mind is wrong.

    Maybe people should just stop being dicks.

  36. scrubber Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @Chris G

    I'm not saying she shouldn't have reported it. I'm not saying the authorities shouldn't have looked into it. I'm saying calling her a fucking hero and automatically assuming their guilt based on some unpopular speech before any evidence has been presented to a jury and a decision reached is fucking horrific and an absolute repudiation of the concepts of freedom of expression and innocent unless proven guilty and an abandonment of journalistic responsibility by El Reg.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @scrubber, you seem to confuse freedom of speech with being magically absolved from the consequences of what you say.

    That's what slander, defamation and libel is all about as well as the frequently referenced not yelling "fire" in a theatre without good cause.

    This man was observed having a conversation with questionable contents, so he was reported to law enforcement to check it out. They were already doing that while the plane was still in the air, so by the time they landed they had confirmed that this conversation wasn't innocent, a play or a book - it was real, with real children affected.

    No need to make it complicated.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    "My point is, do you think they would prosecute someone just on the basis of "some email from some random internet geek?""

    I would not be surprised.

    In Operation Ore many people were charged and convicted on the evidence of a credit card transaction, no pics, no evidence of accessing anything just the CC transaction. There was not even evidence that many of the sites subscribed to carried KP. Only a dozen or so of the 6000 Landslide sites carried KP.

    They were convicted on inciting the site owner to provide KP, the evidence being the CC transaction. Defendants were not allowed to examine the database that the CC transaction was found on.

  39. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @scrubber - I am commenting on what Freedom of Speech is not what the various frauds, criminals, and assorted other scum want to do. To many feral politicians and bureaucrats fear free speech because their multitudinous crimes might be uncovered. Thus the attempts to clamp down. This tension will be ongoing as the various pseudo-elites are trying to avoid a vacation in Club Fed for their misdeeds. Control what can be said and many crimes or the well connected will never be prosecuted.

  40. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    "Not overly impressed with the idiot's brain power."

    Not forgetting, of course that not only was it clear text SMS messaging, but from an aircraft in flight. Does anyone think that calls and texts are not logged in that situation? Governments, the US especially, are paranoid over this sort of thing.

  41. wayne 8

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    The State will take children from a home without a thorough investigation.

    "It's for the Children." TM

    All it takes is an unfounded allegation by a neighbor.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    "And they plant evidence, routinely. Don't go thinking all arrests are of guilty people, or that all convicted people are actually guilty, especially in the US." - scrubber

    Not only in the US. My Western Commonwealth country has enjoyed multiple high-profile scandals where on appeal police were found to have blatantly planted or misrepresented evidence. Two of these recently resulted in persons who had been wrongly imprisoned for a good 10 years being exonerated. No compensation. And the prisons around here are not the nicest places.

    Not to mention the every-day law enforcement curruption, e.g. where a local cop will selectively quote your interview in his report to paint a picture opposite to what you actually said. Tick one more successful arrest on the score-board!

    At least in some other countries, you know the system is corrupt. In the west, we have corruption by small cuts. And when it is in the justice system and results in immeasurable damage to innocent persons... well...I sometimes despair at just how low our society has sunk.

  43. John Savard Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    Well, the story said that the police had two young children in protective custody, so I would guess they have all the proof they need by now.

  44. scrubber Silver badge

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @AC you can yell "fire" in a crowded theatre, it's perfectly legal. If a venue cannot safely evacuate then the owner/promoter should be prosecuted and the venue shut down. This terrible canard came about because the US Supreme Court decided in its infinite wisdom that free speech could be restricted in order to stop pacifists publishing flyers denouncing the draft in WW1. Fortunately this ruling was overturned by a later court and Judge Wendell Holmes later publicly said he regretted his decision as it was he who came up with the "fire" quote.

    That's not to say you couldn't be sued by people whose time you've wasted or be banned from the venue - there are consequences - but none from the state, i.e. you can't be convicted for it in the US. In the UK it may fall under the broad catchall of Breach Of The Peace, a horrible illiberal law that needs revoked.

  45. Dave Bell

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    Some grey areas here, but with pics on the witness's phone it looks pretty solid. I am a little surprised that the local Police are implying he would have been lost to them once he left the plane; that suggests they wouldn't have had any name or address at all.

    It is likely that the pics would have been enough to justify a search of the phone, and that's what blows things open.Compared to other cases that have been reported, this is looking pretty clear. I said, to somebody, a few days ago, "get a pic with your phone". Nothing to do with crime, that time, but it it fixes a moment that shows something you worry about.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    For all you lovely downvoters, just remember the US is prosecuting underage girls for producing child porn for sexting their boyfriends. They often put this out there in order to get them to accept to lesser charges - again for sending pictures of themselves to their boyfriend.

    That's "whataboutism" - referring to something that only vaguely refers to the original discussion. We're dealing with an adult communicating with another adult about what the pair of them will do to minors in charge of one of them, and the communication was seen by a 3rd party who informed law enforcement to check out the situation as I and others would have too (this is not accusing, it's still just voicing concern but as a citizen you do not have the tools to verify further, and it isn't your job). It appears you deem the right to free speech so strong that you would not report someone in the process of planning child abuse.

    Where is your limit here? Child abuse is OK, what about planning a burglary? Or an act of terror? Still OK?

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    And yet when the person arrested at the airport is British and accused of writing criminal malware, the reaction here is an outpouring of righteous indignation that the wicked USA dare react to a report of a crime by bringing the accused in front of a court?

    Until proper detailed charges are seen, yes, because they're a tad too enthusiastic to catch people in the US where especially foreigners have no access to justice unless they are very, very rich.

    They could have briefed the UK police and let him be picked up there, but then there would be no public showboating.

  48. Alan Johnson

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    "Frankly, if someone tweets a bomb threat about an airport it has to be taken seriously. Would you want to be the one responsible for dismissing a genuine threat as a joke?"

    But it was very clearly a joke and very clearly not a threat. It was not interpretted by anyone as a threat, except for the purpose of prosecuting the guy, as evidenced by their actions. The author was arrested charged and convicted, even if the conviction was overturned on the tird appeal.

  49. scrubber Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    @AC, as I already responded to Chris G above, I have no problem with the woman reporting it, and after the report the authorities have a responsibility to investigate it. I do have a problem with all the commentards on here patting her on the back and blithely assuming the accused are guilty because they used speech not approved of and because they got arrested. I also have a problem with El Reg calling her a "hero". Can we not laugh at the idiocy of using a plane's wifi and large fonts in a public space for what is at least questionable speech without breaking out the pitchforks and torches before a jury has even been presented with evidence, much less convicted them, especially given US law enforcement's propensity to arrest now and question later?

    As for my limit, the planning stage of a crime requires to have some evidence that you were likely to follow through, otherwise it's fine to sit around discussing the security flaws of ... hang on, that sounds like another story El Reg is reporting on, only there the person engaged in the speech is the hero of the tale and the US authorities are the bad guys. It's almost like the subject matter of the speech is what determines El Reg, and the commentards', opinion rather than the facts...

  50. ragnar

    Re: Freedom of speech dies a little each day

    Did you miss the part where he was charged with 1st degree child rape? It's not some hypothetical conversation; there were real victims.

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