A new South Carolina law requires all computer technicians to report potential instances of child pornography to police if they see it on a computer. School administrators in the state already had been required by law to report all criminal activity to the police.

The law, which amends the 1976 Code of Laws of South Carolina, was tucked into a bill (H. 3891) about high school education requirements for day-care workers in the last two days of the session. There was no discernible debate. It became law July 20 with Gov. Jim Hodges’ signature.

Hodges’ spokesman Morton Brilliant said protecting children is one of the governor’s top priorities. “This just acknowledges that technology has changed,” he said. “Now folks who look at this trash on their computers will be caught.”

Laws in South Carolina already say people can’t make or appear in films, recordings, or photos involving indecency or that would be deemed obscene. The new law expands an old statute requiring photo finishers to report to police if film they develop contains images of children that appear to be under 18 in sex acts or in a “sexually explicit posture.”

Now the law says “any computer technician working with a computer” must report the computer owner’s name and address to police when they see such an image.

“For seven years we’ve had a law in place that requires school administrators to contact police any time there is criminal activity at school or at a school function,” said Jim Foster, a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Education. “Obviously this already covers child pornography. A school technician [who] didn’t report an instance of child pornography would have already violated the law.”

Foster added, “What this law does do is raise awareness for child pornography.”

South Carolina has about 20,000 people in computer occupations, including more than 5,000 people who maintain computers and networks, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.

Conscripting computer technicians into the state’s anti-porn efforts raises privacy concerns and other issues for some.

“I don’t know how in the world you’re going to enforce that,” said Herb Buhl, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina.

People taking computers to private shops for repairs would have their privacy invaded through the law, Buhl said. “If you take your film to a photo processor, I think there is less of an expectation of privacy than if there is something on your home computer that may or may not be shared with anybody,” he said.

In a school setting, it’s difficult to pinpoint the guilty person because most computers in the schools are not single-user computers, especially in computer labs; several people use them each day, said Beverly White, executive director of education technology services at South Carolina’s Greenville County School District.

“It will not work in a computer lab setting. Maybe it’ll work as a deterrent; sometimes that’s all you need is a deterrent,” White said.

Her district already has a policy that requires technicians to report these instances to the district’s administrators. Also, the district uses an internet filter as will be required by the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

“We filter most everything. I firmly believe the chances of us finding anything are slim to none,” White said.

The new law surprised Blue Cross and Blue Shield of South Carolina, which has one of South Carolina’s largest private-sector computer networks. Spokeswoman Donna Thorne said the insurer and claims-handling company will comply with the new law. But, “I’m not sure it’s our computer technician’s job to be doing law enforcement,” Thorne said.

The new law is “making a private individual into a law enforcement officer,” said John Crangle, state director for Common Cause, a citizen advocacy group.

Thorne said technicians had reported instances involving objectionable material on computers in the past, but none involving child pornography.

The under-18 requirement “is a slippery slope,” she said. “There are people who are in their mid 20s who look younger than 18,” she said. “That’s not necessarily feasible.”

The legislation doesn’t provide for penalties for technicians who do not report what they see–neither does it specify how the law will be enforced. Those making reports to the police will be shielded from liability, according to the new law.

Links:

South Carolina Governor’s Office
http://www.state.sc.us/governor

South Carolina State House Network
http://www.scstatehouse.net

South Carolina Department of Education
http://www.sde.state.sc.us

South Carolina’s American Civil Liberties Union branch
http://www.aclusc.org

Greenville County School District
http://www.greenville.k12.sc.us