Fed. Anti-Smut Bid Harvests Zero Prosecutions

Tod Hunter
WASHINGTON — A Justice Department program to fight obscenity on the Internet, funded by a $150,000-a-year earmark in a spending bill and operated by an anti-porn group, has resulted in no prosecutions for obscenity.

The Justice Department website routes citizen complaints about obscenity to ObscenityCrimes.org, a website run by anti-porn group Morality in Media, which receives the grant money.

Two retired law enforcement officers check the reported sites for legally definable obscenity. A reported 67,000 complaints have been forwarded to the Justice Department and federal prosecutors through this program.

None has been prosecuted.

"Any program that fields public complaints on a matter as complex as obscenity can never be expected to play a meaningful role in the decisions of what is to be prosecuted and where," 1st Amendment attorney Jeffrey Douglas told XBIZ. "Lay people will simply call in about something that they are offended by. Individuals' offense could hardly be less relevant to the criteria for obscenity as defined by the Miller opinion.

"It's even worse when the entity requesting such calls is an ideologically extreme entity, Morality in Media, which is attempting to alter the definition of obscenity into one in which if they can see genital penetration, somebody ought to go to prison. Expecting that the calls that they stimulate will be meaningful is ludicrous.

"The fact that we're spending money on this program is, in fact, simply welfare to extreme political organizations that some ideologues in the White House want to subsidize."

In the seven years of the Bush administration, the Justice Department has prosecuted about 24 cases involving adult material, according to the New York Times. Several focused on producers who failed to keep proper 2257 records.

The president of Morality in Media, Robert W. Peters, is disappointed with the Justice Department’s failure to act on any of his group’s complaints.

“We’d like to see some prosecutions that arose from the complaints submitted to the website,” Peters said. “But it’s ultimately up to the Justice Department, and I can’t tell the Justice Department what to do.”

Stephen G. Bates, a Harvard-trained lawyer and journalism professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, discovered the ObscenityCrimes.org program through a Freedom of Information Act inquiry. He said he was appalled when he discovered that the Justice Department was outsourcing a search for obscenity.

In an op-ed article titled "Outsourcing Justice? That's Obscene" published in The Washington Post and other newspapers, Bates said the combination of Morality in Media’s religious influence, the sensitivity of the issue of free speech and the outsourcing made “a mockery of the 1st Amendment, chilling freedom of expression.”