There are so many websites with such varied types of content on the internet. A few hours of browsing or searching might take you from your favorite social media site or news articles to completely different or new content. However, research or web browsing can often take you down dark paths as well, potentially leading you to sites you didn’t mean to go to. If you end up on a website with dangerous or illegal content by accident, can you face legal repercussions? The Atlantic City internet crime defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain.
What Kinds of Websites are Illegal in New Jersey?
There are general rules and conventions that dictate how the internet works and how content gets from the internet to your screen. Websites are typically hosted by someone – typically a private company – and the content they host is displayed to your device when it accesses that host’s unique address to display the data to you. Many websites like social media sites, video hosting sites, and message boards accept content from third parties and host that content on their websites.
There are laws that govern what type of content is legal – such as laws prohibiting child pornography possession in New Jersey and throughout the country, or even laws governing when and where online gambling is okay. Other laws also protect copyrighted material like movies and music from being shared illegally online. When one of these laws is violated, there are at least 3 parties that could be responsible:
- The owner of the website hosting the material,
- The person who posted the material to the website, or
- The person who accessed the material on the website.
In cases dealing with child pornography, for example, it is illegal to post or share child pornography to the internet, it is illegal to host this content online and continue to share it to others, and it is illegal to seek it out and download a copy of it to your computer. It is also illegal to share, host, or download copyrighted media, though the penalties are obviously quite different for child pornography and copyright violations. Other information on the internet might have dubious legality, such as information about how to make homemade explosives.
Can You Get Arrested for Viewing Illegal Content Online in NJ?
Simply viewing a website with illegal content on it is not always enough to get you arrested. Large websites with millions of posts and uploads per day work to filter and check their content for illegal posts and videos, and if illegal content is flagged, it is usually taken down. These websites might also take steps to report the person who posted the material to the proper authorities or ban their accounts. Even these websites typically take no action against people who properly flag or report illegal content they accidentally come across – and the law works similarly.
If you accidentally come across a website that has illegal content on it, you can usually avoid any repercussions by closing the browser and reporting the website to the police. You should always contact a criminal defense lawyer in such a situation to help protect you from any accusations or legal issues. However, most people are unlikely to do this.
Outside of work or school, no one is looking over your shoulder or monitoring your personal web use. This makes it difficult to “catch” people in the act of committing a crime by viewing bad websites. However, this does not give you license to keep viewing the website.
If you find a website that is hosting illegal content, you should stop going to that website. While it is a crime to intentionally view or possess certain illegal materials, accidentally coming across the site should not run afoul of the law. However, if you do continue to stay on that site or on that page, or you continue to view the content, download the content, or interact with the site, that may be viewed as an intentional crime instead.
When you view a website, there is usually some sort of trail or digital footprint that shows you accessed that site. Files and images are often downloaded in the background to a cache in your browser, the website is stored in your browsing history, your router and modem have a log of the IP address you accessed, your ISP keeps a record of the address you accessed, and the website’s host keeps a log of what IP addresses accessed the site. Though these records and logs are not all retained, they do often exist in some form.
This means that there will likely be some information stored on your computer or elsewhere that shows you did indeed visit the website, and it could provide police with evidence that you committed a crime. Most instances of arrests for possession of child pornography and other internet crimes occur when this information is found. Rather than the FBI breaking down your door or the “internet police” showing up with a SWAT van as soon as you view the site, child pornography crimes are typically discovered when your computer or internet records are seized as part of another criminal investigation. Alternatively, these crimes might be reported by IT technicians, employers, or other household members that discover illegal materials on your computer.
Call Our Atlantic City Internet Crime Defense Lawyers Today for a Free Consultation
It is unlikely you will be arrested for coming across an illegal website by accident. However, if it was not truly an accident, you continued to intentionally browse the site, or you have large amounts of data from the website on your computer or device, you may face arrest and criminal charges. Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych for legal advice if you think you might have committed an internet crime or if you were arrested and charged with a crime such as possession of child pornography, illegal online gambling, or copyright infringement. For a free legal consultation, call us today at (609) 616-4956.