FBI Data on 2257 Inspections Won't Be Made Public

PHILADELPHIA — U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson, who is hearing the Free Speech Coalition's claims over the legality of 18 U.S.C. § 2257, signed last week a protective order governing disclosures of past inspections conducted under the federal record-keeping law for porn producers.

The Justice Department, as part of pretrial discovery proceedings, will produce copies of 29 inspections pursuant to 2257 that occurred between July 24, 2006, and Sept. 19, 2007, but none of the data will become public.

Information sought by the FSC will be protected by the the Privacy Act, a federal code of fair information practices that mandates how federal agencies, such as the FBI, maintain records about individuals.  

Baylson, in his order, outlined procedures for the disclosures of the 29 inspections, and access to the protected information will only be disclosed to attorneys for the government and the FSC, as well as their paralegals and court stenographers.

"Prior to production, the FBI will redact information contained in the reports, including any documents attached to those reports, that consists of personally identifying information regarding individuals appearing in visual depictions of sexually explicit conduct produced by the persons or entities that were subjects of the inspections, including names, aliases and addresses of those individuals," his order said.

If any party of the inspections were sought as potential witnesses, including FSC members and their employees, the identity of those individuals and other data would no longer be protected information, Baylson ordered.  

The FSC, which filed suit against the government three years ago along with more than a dozen other plaintiffs, asserts that the federal record-keeping law for porn producers is unconstitutional because it violates constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizures under the 4th Amendment.

Sections 2257 and 2257A impose a record-keeping requirement on producers of sexually explicit materials and require that they make such records available to the government for inspection at all reasonable times.

While the inspections haven't been employed by the government for some time, the law continues to be in the books and federal inspectors may at any time launch inspections of the records and prosecute any infraction.

The regulations spell out requirements for the maintenance, categorization, location and inspection of records, as well as legal grounds for exemption of these requirements. They require that records be maintained for five years after the dissolution of a business that had been required to maintain them.

In 2008, the Justice Department modified 2257 to provide visual depictions of simulated sexually explicit conduct fall within the scope of materials for which the record-keeping requirement is triggered; actual lascivious exhibitions of the genitals or pubic area are also within the scope of materials triggering the requirement; and producers may use third-party custodians to store their records.

But Baylson, in a November memorandum, said that the 2008 changes will not cause every inspection in the future to be materially different from those in the past.

"The  broader scope of images for which the recordkeeping requirement is triggered will not lessen the invasiveness of future searches," he said in his ruling that keeps alive FSC's 4th Amendment privacy claims over 2257.

View 2257 suit's protective order