Is Googling Child Pornography Illegal? Lawyer Says...

This week, our criminal lawyers discuss a man's worry over Googling child porn.

The Question: Is googling child pornography illegal?

 

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I told a discord bot to Google "child porn" as a (failed) edgy joke, possible repercussions?
 
Location for bot is Maryland.
The title sums it up pretty well, I was in a Discord server that is home to a lot of edgy content and jokes in general, and on a whim I decided to tell the bot to search "child porn." The bot returned an image of what I'm pretty sure was a mugshot of some really ugly guy, but that's irrelevant. I knew in my head that because the bot just trawls Google images, that there was no way that it would ever conceivably post child porn.
 
I am now being told by multiple people that:
 
1. I am in immediate legal trouble
 
2. I should wipe my computer (this seems like a bad idea, as it makes u look like you're trying to hide something, right?)
 
3. That I am now on some sort of FBI list
 
4. and that my local police station has been notified.
 
I don't recall googling "child porn" ever being illegal, and in reality I never actually physically googled it.
 
I totally understand what I did was dumb, I get that, but I just wanted to make sure that I am not "gigaf#@cked" as someone put it. The way I see it, if police do show up and want to look thru my PC, they can have at it because I don't have anything illegal on it.
 
Am I in trouble?

The Answer: Googling the term "child pornography" is not illegal, but viewing or possessing any images or depictions of children in sexual situations is illegal.

Googling a term is not illegal. Search engines such as Google do not permit child pornography images to be searchable or easily found. After all, possessing or viewing those types of images is illegal in all 50 states and federally, so they do not allow criminal activity as searchable.

If you went to Google and searched "child porn," you get a bunch of news stories about child pornography trials, arrests, investigations, and attorney webpages as well as this warning:


What Google shows when searching term "child porn."

The company actively asks for help if any images slip through their algorithms.

Since having child pornography images in your possession is illegal, most illegal imagery is hosted on the Dark Web and only accessible through anonymously encrypted browsers such as Tor. Tor is notorious for being practically untraceable by law enforcement.

It doesn't mean child pornography is exclusive to the Dark Web, just not easily found or searchable on a browser like Chrome, Firefox, or Safari.

No trouble will come from a simple search of the term "child pornography," only the possessing and viewing of images depicting children in sexual situations will.

If you are ever caught with child porn images on a device, then law enforcement will check your browser history forensically for terms that show intent to procure those images to strike down the "I had no idea that was on there" defense. So, there is a possibility that search query could bite someone in the butt in the future.

Your attempt at humor was distasteful but not likely to bring authorities to your doorstep.

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Our automatic disclaimer: We're lawyers, but not necessarily your lawyer, and do not represent the individual who asked this question. We're providing this information for general educational purposes based on the publicly available information provided by the anonymous Internet user. Any number of details may change how this individual's attorney may pursue this legal situation, differently from how we suppose above. If you have a similar question, then you should consult with a lawyer about your specific situation to get a "real" response!