Our government is working hard to protect us from bad people like child molesters, and when they infringe on the First Amendment or on privacy


Net priorities

Our government is working hard to protect us from bad people like child molesters, and when they infringe on the First Amendment or on privacy they're only doing it for our sake.

And if you believe that, would you mind explaining Patrick Naughton and ShapeShifter to me?

Patrick Naughton is a very wealthy and well-connected . . . oh, wait, that's totally irrelevant. Start again. Patrick Naughton is the former go.com exec who last year was nabbed after flying to California for a "date" with a 13-year-old girl to whom he had mailed pictures of what he claimed to be his genitalia. The 13-year-old turned out to be a male FBI agent, at which point Mr. Naughton claimed that he knew all along, no really, and besides he'd been under a lot of stress at work.

ShapeShifter (a.k.a. Terrence McGuckin), meanwhile, is a layout artist for 2600 magazine and an occasional speaker at conferences for the digitally curious—if you were lucky you might have caught him at H2K (Hackers on Planet Earth 2000) this year. ShapeShifter was walking down a Philadelphia street during the recent GOP convention when he was arrested for obstruction of justice, failure to disperse, reckless endangerment, and—brace yourself—having a cell phone. (The technical name of the charge is "possession of an instrument of crime," but said instrument was a mobile telephone.)

So guess what happened to the guy attempting to commit statutory rape, and what happened to the guy walking down the street with a cell phone? Which of these fellows do you find more problematic: the guy who might be advising others on how to politically protest or the guy hitting on kids in a chat room called "Dad&DaughterSex?"

During the past few months Naughton has allegedly been "helping" authorities to nab others of his kind—the government cites his assistance as significant, useful, complete, and timely, but doesn't say exactly what it was. (According to information received by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the work was for the FBI and included software to capture IP numbers, monitor chats, and match images. There was also software for detecting steganography—that's a hidden message, y'all, like concealing words in a picture—and a "framework for a program" to remotely search PCs. Yikes.) Naughton pulled nine months' home detention, a $20,000 fine, and five years probation. He avoids 12-18 months behind bars.

He also apparently doesn't have to rehabilitate himself; he continues to deny he has a problem and deny that he was attempting to have sex with a child. He did, however, plead guilty to traveling across state lines to have sex with a minor. Since he claims he "knew" he was meeting an adult at the Santa Monica Pier that day, and since it's known that Naughton was corresponding with more than one allegedly-young allegedly-girl . . . the obvious question is between Naughton, his God, and his clearly full-up social calendar.

He gets to keep his computer and look for work in the high-tech realm, which puts him two up on Kevin Mitnick, too, but that's another column.

Meanwhile, ShapeShifter was held for over a week on $500,000 bail. Only after the Republicans were safely back in their limos and out of town was bail reduced to $100,000—still a whacking great amount for four misdemeanors. He was one of hundreds taken into custody for what the press shorthands as "WTO-style protests"— his right as an American citizen, but terribly embarrassing when the GOP had gone to all that trouble to choreograph a convention. (And observers say it could have gone even worse for demonstrators if Philly police hadn't been caught on camera earlier this summer beating the shit out of a black guy who allegedly shot a cop, only it turns out that the cop was accidentally shot by another cop. Apparently the resultant scrutiny made the police mind their manners with the civilians. Sort of.)

The Feds told the court to go easy on Naughton because he'd been really helpful, but they won't say how. We're supposed to trust the government that whatever Naughton did for them was related to catching child abusers and not, say, political dissidents. Meanwhile, the Feds fall over themselves to get Naughton a light sentence while doing nothing to expedite the release of lawful protesters in Philadelphia—or to ensure that the government doesn't use child porn as a smoke screen to chop at our rights to free speech and privacy. But they wouldn't do that, would they?

Look at how Naughton and ShapeShifter each fared and decide for yourself what the government's priorities are.

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