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Channel 10's sting operation that brought about the arrest of suspected pedophiles who allegedly tried to lure minors over the Internet has raised a number of legal issues regarding child pornography on the Internet.

"The penal law was written a long time before technology advanced and developed into its current state, and there's something complicated and perhaps artificial in trying to apply it to offenses perpetrated over the internet," said Dr. Yuval Karniel of the Sammy Ofer School of Communication at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. "Take, for example, offenses concerning exposure of minors to illicit acts. When [the laws] were passed, the offense referred to a situation in which an adult carried out the act in front of a minor. In this instance, however, the offenses were done over the Internet using cameras while each of the participants was located in his own private space where one can close their camera application or their computer."

"In such a case, the effect of the illicit act on the minor and the minor's control over the situation is completely different," he added. "It's not like he was cornered in a room or a street corner by use of fear or intimidation."

National Council for the Child head Itzhak Kedman disagrees. According to him, one cannot underestimate the potential damage to the mental health of a child exposed to an illicit act.

"We still warn our children against taking candy from strangers on the street, but today that stranger is in the house," Kedman said, referring to the potential exposure of kids to pedophiles over the Internet.

Penal law defines an illicit act as an act carried out in order to titillate, satisfy or sexually humiliate another. It states that exposure of a youth under the age of 14 to such an act is against the law even with mutual consent. A separate law states that any sexual pass at a minor under the age of 14 is regarded as sexual harassment.

Vague problems

Karniel explained that it will be necessary to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspects intended to physically perform the acts in front of the minors when they met.

"The Internet's main characteristic is the vagueness of whoever is on the other side," he said. Because of this "vagueness," suspects arrested in the case are being charged only for attempted illicit acts.

Currently, the law forbids distribution of material deemed as an "abomination," a term it defines as pornography including minors, violence or humiliation of women, or particularly abusive images of sadomasochistic behavior.

Defining the use of pedophilic material on one's computer is also problematic, Karniel said.

"People who surf pornography sites can find themselves in a situation in which they receive pornographic material without their knowledge in the form of spam or pop-ups," he added.

Kedman warned that keeping pedophilic pornography on a computer supports an industry that harms children and is in direct violation of the law.