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ACLU Calls for Review of Florida’s Cyber Crime Investigation Regime

The Central Florida Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force has recently been in the news for its “To Catch a Predator” style sting operations. Though the ICAC is nobly attempting to combat cyber crimes against children in Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union has recently called for a federal review of the ICAC practices. The ICAC has been accused of utilizing federal funds for its investigations while violating and/or disregarding rules of criminal procedure and other relevant rules during various stages of their child cyber crime investigation process. If such claims are proven to be true, millions of dollars in federal funds that are granted to the ICAC could be in jeopardy.

The Central Florida’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force

Earlier this summer, the local Tampa, Florida news station 10 Investigates illustrated how the Central Florida ICAC task force, in conjunction with the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, uses ploys that some might equate to entrapment in order to target men suspected of committing cyber crimes against children. The ICAC begins their investigations by posting totally legal ads on legitimate dating sites. These ads are used to lure men into making arrangements to meet up with children who have not yet reached the age of 18. Judges throughout the state have criticized such investigation tactics as failing to follow the required procedures, while also provoking law-abiding citizens to commit illegal acts.

Another reason why the ICAC task force has been criticized is because the people they are arresting often don’t turn out to be the hardened criminals and repeat-offense pedophiles that they are portrayed as being in the media. In fact, the 10 Investigates analysis of the over 1,000 arrests made by the ICAC in Florida since 2008 illustrated that many of the arrested people from the sting operations did not have past criminal records, and thus were typically able to escape from prosecution without receiving any prison time. Even local agencies have criticized these stings, and many wonder if the task force is losing sight of the ultimate goal of putting actual sex offenders in jail, instead of simply enticing and arresting people who have previously not committed crimes against children.

The big issue at debate regarding the criticism of the ICAC task force is whether efforts could be better spent focusing on other child cyber crime-related issues, instead of conducting high-cost sting operations that, though humiliating to the alleged perpetrator, may not be doing much to catch those criminals who have already committed cyber crimes against kids. Other local agencies do not take part in sting operations, but instead focus their efforts on more immediate hazards to children such as sex trafficking and child porn. Furthermore, a review of the ICAC  official priorities list illustrates that online undercover stings don’t even make the top 10 list of the sort of crimes that the ICAC should be going after. These priorities that the ICAC should be focusing on include situations in which:

  1. A child is at immediate risk of victimization;
  2. A child is vulnerable to victimization by a known offender;
  3. Aggressive, high-volume child pornography manufacturers or distributors exist who either are commercial distributors, repeat offenders, or specialize in sadistic images;
  4. A known suspect is aggressively soliciting a child(ren);
  5. Manufacturers, distributors or possessors of images have photographs that appear to be home photography with domiciled children;
  6. Manufacturers, distributors, or solicitors are involved in high-volume trafficking or belong to an organized child pornography ring that operates as a criminal conspiracy;
  7. There exist distributors, solicitors and possessors of images of child pornography; or
  8. Any other form of child victimization is occurring.

The state of Florida has decided to focus increased time, energy and resources on the investigation of cyber crimes against children. If you are being prosecuted for such crimes, or need any other criminal defense assistance, you should contact criminal attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. in South Florida.

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