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With new technology comes new responsibilities

February 27, 2012
Trooper Randy Servia - Michigan State Police , The Alpena News

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was credited with the invention of the telephone, but how long did it take to go mobile? The first cell phones were developed around 1947. These phones were car based (similar to walkie talkies) and only one person could talk at a time.

Before the invention of the cell phone, do you remember the party line? This was when one residential telephone was directly connected to the nearby neighbors' telephones. Each connected resident had to share the same telephone loop. Back then, each home only had one telephone number. Today a household may have two or more landline telephone numbers, plus the number of members who may have a mobile telephone.

Today cell phones are not just used for communication. They have endless capabilities such as surfing the Internet, messaging (texting), adding mobile applications, and taking photographs. The most recent advancements are called "smart phones." These smart phones have more computer power that fits in the palm of your hand than all of NASA back in 1969 when it landed two astronauts on the moon.

As technology advances, cell phones are being marketed to attract younger users. Parents also want instant communication with their children. More than ever, cell phones are accessible to children and teenagers. But with more convenience comes more problems.

Most cell phones today have access to the Internet or texting. Even though parents may not initially sign up for this service, the mobile user can add it for just a day or the entire month. By not monitoring the monthly statements, a parent with multiple cell phones assigned to members of their household may not recognize these added charges.

Most cell phones today have a camera. During the fall of 2011, only one phone in Verizon's line-up, the Samsung Haven, did not have a camera or access to the Internet.

A new problem concerning parents is when their child takes an inappropriate picture with their cell phone of themselves or someone else that may depict nudity. This photo is then easily forwarded to someone else. This is known as "sexting."

In Michigan, the minimum legal age to appear in pornographic material is 18 years old. This means that any photograph an average person sees as sexually abusive, lacking artistic, political or scientific value, and depicts or describes a listed sexual act in a blatantly obvious offensive way, would be considered pornographic material. Photographs that may even simulate this inappropriate behavior could be considered pornographic material.

Here is a possible scenario. A 16-year-old female takes a nude picture of herself with her cell phone and then sends the photograph to her 17-year-old boyfriend's cell phone by way of a text message. The boyfriend then shares the photograph of his girlfriend with his friends at school. Those friends then send the photograph to their additional friends. Do you see where this is going?

What are the legal ramifications of this chain of event? First of all, the female just committed a 20-year felony by taking a nude photograph of herself. Then, by her sending the photograph to her boyfriend, she committed a 7-year felony for distribution. Finally, by possessing the nude photograph of herself, she just committed a four-year felony. If convicted of these charges, she would have a felony conviction on her record. Because she is under 17 years of age, she will go through the juvenile process and at age 21, her criminal record will be expunged. Right? Wrong. When she applies for future education or employment, that picture she took of herself will surface over and over again. How is this possible? When one of the recipients receives the photograph, he or she may place it on the Internet to be viewed by all. Once you send something electronically, it is gone into the Internet forever.

Now, let's talk about the 17-year-old boy who received the nude photograph from his girlfriend. Being that he is 17, he is considered an adult in Michigan. First, by him possessing the inappropriate photograph of his girlfriend, he can be charged with a four-year felony. But for each time he sent the inappropriate photograph of his girlfriend to his friends, he committed a seven-year felony. Do you also see where this is going? If convicted, he may be subject to the Michigan Sex Offender Registration List. Also, by having a felony conviction, this will not help with getting scholarships for future education, applications for colleges, universities or employment.

For a student who thinks he or she can get away with this by using someone else's cell phone without their knowledge, this is a two-year felony. Law enforcement has the capabilities through a proper search warrant to track each cell phone transmissions by date, time and location.

As a parent, if your child has a cell phone with a camera and texting capabilities, and you have not talked to him or her about cell phone responsibilities, educate them on the ramifications of making a poor decision that could affect them the rest of their life. Parents need to monitor their monthly cell phone statements for unusual charges. Also, parents should physically check incoming and outgoing text messages, photographs, and even calls on their child's cell phone.

To ensure your child is not sending or receiving photos, texts, or calls from strangers, there are services cell phone providers offer. Both Verizon and AT&T have safeguards (for additional fees per line) that allow parents to monitor their child's cell phone without his or her knowledge.

Trooper Randy Servia is available for any additional questions or group presentations relating to this or other topics. Contact the Michigan State Police Alpena Post at 354-4101.



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