What Online Searches are Illegal?
People conduct scores of searches every day, and, while it all seems fairly anonymous to type in some terms on your laptop, home computer or smartphone, there are online searches that could potentially land you in jail.
In an era when cyber crimes are so widespread, law enforcement agencies have entire
units devoted to monitoring internet activity — including people using certain internet search terms that suggest the possibility of it leading to serious criminal acts. Even if you think your search was innocent in nature or done solely as research, it’s crucial to know which search terms law enforcement is monitoring so police don’t show up at your door asking serious questions. It’s possible today for your Google search to literally become a crime.
If you have been arrested and charged with looking up illegal terms and believe you didn’t do so with any intent to commit a crime, it’s important to immediately reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney to review your case.
What Search Terms are Illegal?
Law enforcement closely monitors certain internet search terms and logs the IP address of the computer used to search for those terms. Their goal isn’t to invade your privacy but to prevent serious crimes from being committed. It’s important to understand that after you conduct a search, those terms stay in your browser history, and police can make the assumption that your decision to search for certain keywords indicates your intention to commit a crime. That’s why certain internet search terms and topics can result in an arrest. Some of the most critical include:
One of the most serious and frequently cited illegal searches is any content that depicts anyone younger than 17 engaging in sexual activity. Police monitor those conducting searches for child pornography on the presumption that by doing s
o, you intended to watch child pornography online or to download it onto your computer, which are both serious criminal charges.
Finding an Assassin
If you’ve ever been so angry at someone that you fantasized about hiring an assassin to get rid of them, avoid doing a search for available hitmen, even if you considered it a joke or were just curious about what you’d find. There’s a criminal underworld on the “dark web” where you can find illegal services, whether it’s child pornography for sale or someone offering to commit murder for a fee. The police or FBI won’t automatically walk away if you tell them the search was done for a mystery novel you want to write.
Because of the continuous threat of terrorist attacks, cybersecurity investigators closely monitor any online activity that suggests a potential act of terrorism is being planned. Avoid searching for anything related to making bombs or anything to do with setting off explosives. It isn’t even as simple as typing in “how do you make a bomb.”Law enforcement has become more sophisticated about tracking the terms that some terrorists use — including words that sound innocent, such as “backpacks” or “pressure cooker.” It’s possible certain searches could place you on the FBI’s Terrorist Watch List.
Violating Copyright Laws
A lot of what’s available on the internet is protected by copyright, and streaming material that’s protected is illegal. You want to avoid downloading and sharing material that’s protected by copyright since you could be liable for damages to the copyright owner. Keep in mind that your internet search provider can see when you’ve downloaded material that has a copyright protection.
Does the First Amendment Protect Online Searches?
Can your Google searches be considered fully protected by our right to free speech? Google has certainly made the argument that its search results are free speech and deserve full First Amendment protection, and some courts have agreed.
However, the law is still evolving here. There are complex and thorny issues involved with the idea of “thought crime,” and the fine line between being curious to learn more about a subject, and crossing into illegal behavior. Researching information about child pornography is covered by free speech, but viewing or downloading it is illegal. The same is true with streaming or downloading music or films. Whether it’s illegal depends on whether it came from an authorized licensee or a counterfeiter.
Many of us accept that law enforcement has a right to fight child pornography, terrorism, and other criminal activities that exploit the internet for devious means. Being aware of what law enforcement is monitoring so aggressively is a good place to start. You can also checkout your Google search history and delete what you want from there.
If you’ve been contacted by police or any law enforcement agency about your online searches as a potential suspect for a criminal investigation, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.
Hire a Credible Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney
The Umansky Law Firm has more than 100 years of combined experience representing individuals across Central Florida. If you made a mistake in judgment through a Google search, our attorneys can help you build a defense. Our goal is to give every case the representation it deserves by getting to know you and the circumstances surrounding your charges. As former prosecutors, we bring a unique point of view to the table and know how to win even the toughest cases.
Don’t let your life be defined by a single mistake. Hire our team of lawyers to represent you today. We are highly rated on Avvo.com and are among Florida Trend’s Florida Legal Elite.
Schedule a free consultation by calling our office or contact us. We believe you deserve a second chance.