by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
In a recent high profile Western Australian criminal case, a school principal who had been charged with allegedly possessing child pornography on his computer escaped conviction when the charges were dropped. He is now reportedly pursuing a wrongful dismissal application against the school.
The law under which he had been charged is a provision of the Western Australian Criminal Code (of which equivalents exist in other States) that prohibits the possession of child pornography. In the case of a computer-based offence, the police must show that the person intended to possess the pornography. That can be difficult to show in cases where more than one person uses the computer, or where there is a plausible innocent explanation for the presence of child pornography on it.
The relevance of this for law-abiding citizens is in how to manage the risks of being caught with material on your computer that you didn't put there. If more than one person does use your computer, set up a separate login profile or account for each such person, and log out of your own account when you are done. Don't accept files that people send you in IRC or other chat forums. Take a look at what other family members may have saved to your computer hard drive before you take the computer in for repair. Finally, always run an up-to-date virus scanner, to avoid allowing your computer to fall under a malicious hacker's control.