In another episode of “cops preventing people from being naughty on the internet,” two 17-year-olds in North Carolina have been arrested and charged with crimes for sending each other nude pictures of themselves. The pair are a boyfriend-girlfriend couple and only sent the pictures to each other, not to anyone else. If convicted they would have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.
If the two had been both over the age of 18, there’s no crime.
The boyfriend is being charged as an adult for having photos on his phone that he took of himself, because he was a minor at the time he took them.
That bears repeating: a teenager is being charged with an adult felony that, if convicted, carries a prison term and lifetime registration as a sex offender, for having a picture of his own body. Not sharing it, just having it.
I’ve written before about how the police try to prevent people from being mean on the internet. This is the kind of nonsensical thing that happens when the legislature decides they have a moral imperative to prevent people from behaving in a way they don’t like, and write over-broad laws that give the police authority to punish those people by any means necessary.
Florida’s sexting law is written less stupidly than North Carolina’s. It makes possessing nude pictures by a minor a crime, but only if they were transmitted by another minor. It also makes a first offense a non-criminal violation. It even exempts any pictures of a breast-feeding mother, for whatever that’s worth.
While preventing the sexual exploitation of minors is a good thing, and something we should try to do as a society, we should also be smart about the way we do it. Unintended consequences, like charging a teenager with a sex crime for having pictures of himself, can do permanent harm.