In the middle of interviewing a McMaster University computer scientist, I became aware that I and a number of my newsroom colleagues might be guilty of importing, possessing, and creating child pornography.
We had spent the day researching and preparing to follow up yesterday's front-page report on how Ontario Provincial Police charged a Hamilton-area man, his wife, and a teenager in connection with pornographic images allegedly downloaded from the Internet and saved as computer files.
During our research, a couple of reporters wanted to know how easily hardcore child pornography could be found on the Internet and whether it could be viewed without downloading and saving the images as computer files.
The simple answer was there are no simple answers.
Dirty pictures are common. But to find hardcore kiddie porn on the Internet you have to really look for it. And when you make the effort, you find plenty to offend.
Generally speaking, child pornography is not often found on the World Wide Web, which is the popular, graphics-based part of the Internet.
The really horrendous stuff is available in large quantities through Usenet newsgroups, a way of swapping information around the world. Newsgroups allow senders to encode pictures as text, which is available for other users to decode with their computers later.
OPP Staff Sergeant Bob Matthews, who leads the force's anti-porn unit, told us computer users must download child porn images and save them in order for charges to be laid.
But David Jones, an assistant professor in McMaster's theme school on science, technology, and public policy, warned anyone who takes a peek to satisfy their curiosity may find their computer's software has made a temporary copy of the illegal pictures and stored them indefinitely on the hard drive of their computer.
"So even if you don't actively save it, yes, the software automatically makes a copy and saves it for a period of time", said Jones.
Jones is also president of Electronic Frontier Canada, a non-profit organization wit the aim of protecting freedom of expression and the right to privacy on the Internet.
The computer scientist said the research conducted in the newsroom yesterday was probably illegal in Canada.
"Here's a scenario", he said. "The police raid your newsroom. They seize your computers and they find all this kiddie porn, you're swimming in the stuff because you've done all this research."
"What's the headline? `Hamilton Police Crack International Child Pornography Ring at The Spectator'."
"And if you're showing it to each other, you're distributors. And if you copy it onto a floppy disk for reference later, you've made a new copy of the image and you're charged with creating child pornography."
Assistant Crown attorney Denis Allan is prosecuting a case in which a man was charged with possessing child pornography after taking his computer into a shop to be repaired.
The technician found the images on his hard drive and called Hamilton-Wentworth police.
A preliminary hearing is set for June 6 in Ontario Court (provincial division).
Allan doesn't believe the courts have yet addressed the issue of whether a person is guilty of possessing child pornography if the images were downloaded by their software and stored without their direct knowledge.
"I would think if that had been argued and reported (in the case law), it would be something that a lot of lawyers would know and would be talking about."