What is illegal to search on the internet? The “criminal getting busted for their online search history” trope seems to be popular in crime TV shows, but it’s a real crime that real people get arrested for. So, how do you go from a few Google searches to a criminal conviction?
Although there is no article of the Texas Penal Code that lists what is illegal to search for on the internet, certain online searches do qualify as proof of intent based on their wording, frequency, or the sequence of your search history as it pertains to the specifics of your case.
Confused about what qualifies as an illegal internet search? In this article, the criminal defense attorneys from Westfall Sellers are here to walk you through what types of internet searches could end up in an arrest.
Illegal internet searches
What Google searches are illegal? Police and prosecutors can use your search history to establish intent to commit a crime. This is especially important in cases pertaining to child pornography or online solicitation of a minor in Texas, as well as searches that signal intent to engage in illegal internet activity, such as sharing copyrighted material (piracy).
Examples of searches that are considered illegal content to search for on the internet include:
Even visiting a website that hosts child pornography can be considered a crime. Anonymity does not apply here either because police can use your IP address to trace your search and download behavior and obtain a warrant for your arrest. Depending on the nature of your searches and internet activity, you could be facing child pornography charges and may even end up on a registered sex offender list.
Underage chat rooms
Chatting with a minor is risky territory. It’s not necessarily illegal to chat with someone under the age of 18, though this mainly depends on the purpose and nature of the interaction. Using underage chat rooms to display, distribute, or collect sexually explicit material to or from a minor is illegal and is considered online solicitation of a minor in Texas which can have major consequences.
Torrenting is also known as illicit or unofficial streaming of material that is protected by copyright. If you choose to view or share copyrighted material through means of unofficial streaming, you could end up facing jail time and may even be sued by the individual or company that owns the right to the material you illegally streamed.
Hiring a hit-man
In Texas, hiring someone to kill someone else — often referred to as contract killing — is illegal even if you try to do so “anonymously” through the dark web. If the person is actually killed, both the assassin and the individual(s) who hired them could face manslaughter charges along with a lifetime in prison. Even if the person is not actually killed, you could still face charges on account of the intent to murder.
Can you go to jail for looking at a website?
I accidentally searched for something illegal, can I go to jail? The laws surrounding online behavior aren’t always black and white.
Generally speaking, you must actually engage in illegal activity through a website in order for it to be considered criminal activity. For instance, you could visit a website that sells illegal drugs or offers illegal downloads of copyright material, but as long as you don’t purchase or download anything, you’re not committing a crime.
As mentioned, child pornography is completely different. The laws for possession of child pornography DO NOT require you to download or physically possess sexually explicit images of a minor in order to be guilty of possession. When you view child pornography online, that activity is stored in your computer cache, which qualifies as possession of child pornography in Texas.
Do the police monitor Google searches?
While police do not actively monitor Google searches, they are able to obtain a warrant for your search history if they have probable cause to do so. That said, Google does try to set algorithms in place to keep illegal content off of the search results pages and although Google doesn’t report illegal activity, the National Security Agency (NSA) may be tracking your searches.
Using a search engine to search for illegal internet activity is a crime, and police can use your search behavior, search history, and social network to establish intent or conspiracy to commit a worse offense like possession of child pornography or even murder.
For example, searching for “child pornography statistics” would not constitute any kind of legal offense, though searching for “child pornography downloads” could. Searching for information about murder wouldn’t be an issue unless you were also under investigation for murder. Completing online searches like “Is it illegal to search for child pornography?” will end up looking more suspicious than investigative if you’re accused of sex crimes involving a child.
In trouble because you didn’t know what is illegal to search on the Internet? You need Westfall Sellers to represent you.
What is illegal to search on the internet is not always clear and can leave you feeling worried about being arrested for your search history. With the exception of child pornography, you haven’t committed a crime by searching for illegal content until you actually engage in any illegal activity. As a rule of thumb, if something feels illegal, it could be in your best interest to not search for it online.
However, if you have been charged with a crime based on your online search behavior, you need a strong Tarrant County criminal lawyer from Westfall Sellers on your side. We have extensive experience in handling cases regarding child pornography, drug cases, and manslaughter in Texas and will work tirelessly to try to clear your name against any criminal charges you might face.
Don’t leave your freedom up to chance. Contact us today to schedule your consultation.
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