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23 June 2008updated 24 Sep 2015 11:01am

Porn, privacy and the US judge

The lessons we can all learn from the curious case of the obscenity trial judge whose sexually graph

By Debra Saunders

Any 20-year-old can tell you: There is no privacy on the Internet. So why didn’t Judge Alex Kozinski — at 57 the new chief judge of the federal appeals court — realise that when he set up to store family and private documents, that one of his legal adversaries was likely to trawl the site, and use any taste-challenged sexually-graphic contents on the site to tarnish his reputation?

Kozinski told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bob Egelko that he wasn’t sure whether he or another family member had intentionally stored the sexually explicit images, as the judge took responsibility for the site’s contents. “I haven’t gone through and looked at it. Some of it, I should have … I had no intention of making these files public.” After the Times story, Kozinski shut down the site. And Kozinski’s wife was right to point out that many of the images described as pornographic more rightly should be described as humorous – if a teenage boy’s idea of humour.

There was nothing illegal on the site, and as a citizen Kozinski had every right to look at and post the images. Unfortunately for him, the timing of the story — as Kozinski was presiding over a closely-watched obscenity trial — prompted Kozinski to recuse himself and declare a mistrial. Kozinski also asked the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ Judicial Council to investigate whether he had engaged in misconduct.

There is no reason to believe the investigation will find any wrong-doing. And while you have to ask yourself what Kozinski was thinking, you cannot ignore the education value of this episode for all adults: When video and sexually-explicit images are involved, the universe of newsworthy figures and items expands. What one person finds funny, another describes as indecent – and you may become the global recipient of your own joke.

Wrote blogger Lawrence Lessig: “The real story here is how easily we let such a baseless smear travel – and our need is for a better developed immunity (in the sense of immunity from a virus) from this sort of garbage.”

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