The Handly Case – This Is How Liberty Dies (or is at least Badly Wounded)
One of the news stories I’ve been following recently is The Handly Case, which is an obcenity case in Iowa – the state which was sufficently progressive enough to legalize gay marrage (an act I support), involving Christopher Handley for posessing recieving child porn – in the form of a Hentai (porn) Manga (or Japanese comic book) containing sex involving people who are underage.
I’m not going to defend Lolicon here. For starters, Lolicon isn’t my thing – and in any case, if the material was prosecuted as being obcene for an entirely different reason (bondage material) that still wasn’t my thing, it’d be hard to defend it – because it’s hard to defend a kink that’s not yours, especially to a someone who doesn’t have that kink (and besides, if they already have that kink, you don’t need to defend it to them). I’m going to refrain at this time from going into my kinks anyway because they’re irrelevant (and if you really care what they are, you can post a comment and ask – this doesn’t mean that I’ll answer, but I’m not getting into them in this blog post).
I’m also not going to get into the free speech reasons why this case is bad, because, frankly, Neil Gaiman did it better than I possibly good. I strongly encourage you to Neil’s post, because it’s excellently well written, and explains why you can’t slack off in the defense of free speech – because unfortunately, if you let icky speech be outright banned in a particular medium (video games, comics, film, etc.) it becomes easier to ban speech you support. This doesn’t mean you can’t marginalize certain types of icky speech (hate speech, NAMBLA), but banning icky speech outright bad (note: I’m not defending actual photographed and filmed child porn as icky speech – a crime must be committed in its creation, thus making it by its nature illegal – though I find the prosecution over sexting absurd, but I’m digressing – just read Gaiman’s essay.)
All the free speech issues aside, here’s the problem I have, and it can be found in the basic facts of the case:
Christopher Handley ordered a lot order of manga from Japan – basically a grab bag of titles. It contained a hentai manga (porn comic) that involved sexual intercourse with minors (and I believe Bestiality was involved). Handley was not aware of this at the time. The postmaster in Handley’s home town “suspected the package contained obscene material” (his words) and opened the package without seeking a warrant. Law Enforcement (including customs agents) have to get a warrant to open a mail message unless, for example, they determine the letter contains drugs or a bomb (which they have screening methods for).
After opening the package and finding the offending material, they re-sealed it and when Handley came to pick it up, they followed him back to his house and searched it, after obtaining a warrant over the phone. They then basically tore the house apart and took everything.
This case, frankly, reminds me of the Steve Jackson Games Raid. For those unfamiliar, that raid was part of a similar witch-hunt against Hackers, back in the days before the use of botnets used by spammers, hackers in the employ of organized crime (and possibly foreign intelligence services) to attack web sites and spread junk E-Mail, back when “hackers” (the correct term, by the way, being “crackers” were much less likely to do anything harmful to the average computer user – or anyone else for that matter).
There is one key difference between these cases. Steve Jackson Games did not cave in. The nascent EFF helped come to the defense of SJG, and ultimately most of the material taken from SJG was returned – except for the print-outs from the GURPS Cyberpunk role-playing game sourcebook and the hard drives of the book’s author – Lloyd Blankeship.
I am proud to say that I own a copy of GURPS Cyberpunk’s first printing.
Handley, however, caved. He recently pled guilty to one count of recieving obcene materials (presumably as part of a plea bargain), and as part of the conditions of this bargain, he agreed to forfeit all anime and manga (and related materials) and never own any anime or manga ever again.
This sets a nasty precident that could be used down the road to make anime and manga illegal. Further, this sets an even more dangerous precident that allows your mail to be opened and searched without your consent, and without warrant, and with a filmsy excuse for probable cause.
Unless this plea agreement was done without Handley’s informed consent, and until this case is either thrown out, or a higher court rules in favor of the defendant in a similar (if not identical case) – I’m going to have to reccomend that you don’t import anime and manga – or for that matter, anything from Japan.
Though, if you do, and you end up getting prosecuted – for the love of GOD, fight it! Because we’re all depending on you.
Oh, and Handly, Kamina’s pissed at you for surrendering.