A 24-year-old computer-repair technician at Quidnunc—the bustling computer store on California Avenue Southwest at Alaska Junction—is used to seeing porn pop up on people's computers. "Everything from beaver shots to weirder stuff like Japanese animation featuring tentacles and slime," he says. "You get pretty desensitized."
However, the file he saw last month while repairing one customer's computer freaked him out. It was titled "5-year-old Girl" and it was a picture of a grown man having sex with a little girl. There were several other JPEG files with similar titles, he says.
It's against the law to not report child porn, so he called the police. [Police Beat, Charles Mudede, March 2.]
In the report, Officer Askew states: "I seized the computer. Once at the SW Precinct I opened the files to examine the contents. I saw numerous pictures of children engaged in sexual acts with other children and adults. Some of the children appeared to be as young as 7 years old."
Last week, in response to the Police Beat item, Quidnunc received the following anonymous letter: "Although I do believe child pornography is wrong, sick, disgusting, etc., I believe it is equally wrong what your employees did... I do not want to be concerned about some misguided do-gooder taking my private information and reporting it to 'Big Brother.' This is just one more example of the decay in civil rights in this country and you have chosen to contribute to it. I will not let this happen. I will no longer patronize your business... Just two days ago I referred a friend to your business to have his computer upgraded. I immediately called him and strongly advised him to go elsewhere. When I explained why, he agreed. We need to begin organizing boycotts against individuals who threaten our personal freedoms."
Civil Libertarians are rightfully on edge these days. Congress just reauthorized the constitutionally questionable USA PATRIOT Act, which allows "sneak-and-peeks" where law enforcement can search your home or office, take photos, and seize items without letting you know that a warrant was issued. A week later, the GOP majority in Congress lowered the bar on domestic surveillance guidelines, retroactively accommodating President Bush's creepy spying program. However, skittishness about the right to be left alone, justified and righteous as it may be, seems way off point in this case where—if the pictures are authentic—young children are being sexually abused.
Quidnunc employees were flabbergasted. Owner Bill Hibler says: "We were not casually snooping. The customer asked us specifically to solve a problem he had opening certain image files. The files we found were not images attached to spam e-mails or downloaded through casual surfing. They were full-resolution JPEG files with descriptive file names—the kind that someone likely received as a result of payment or exchange. I would love to be on record stating my belief that no one has the 'personal freedom' to support the sexual exploitation of a child."
Possession of child pornography is a class C felony and can get you a year in jail, according to the King County prosecutor's office.
The folks at Quidnunc say that when the suspect called to check up on his computer, they simply referred him to the Seattle Police Department. They say he was nonchalant and even came into the store later that day to pick up a disk. He called the store again about two days later and asked if the store had fixed his computer before turning it over to the police. No, they had not. According to the Quidnunc employee who took the call, the suspect said: "Figures," and hung up abruptly.
The SPD is currently investigating the incident. They have not made an arrest.