What is Illegal to Search for on the Internet?

You see it all the time on TV and in the news: criminals getting busted because of their online search history. But how do you know what is illegal to search for on the Internet? And how do you go from a few Google searches to a criminal conviction?

Using a search engine to search for illegal internet activity is a crime, and police can use your search behavior, search history, and social network to establish intent or conspiracy to commit a worse offense like possession of child pornography (for which you will need an expert child pornography defense attorney) or even murder.

What is illegal to search for on the Internet: Illegal terms

While there is no article of the Texas Penal Code that lists what is illegal to search for on the internet, certain online searches and do qualify as proof of intent based on their wording, frequency, or the sequence of your search history as it pertains to the specifics of your case.

Police and prosecutors can use your search history to establish intent to commit a crime. This is especially important in cases pertaining to child pornography or online solicitation of a minor in Texas, as well as searches that signal intent to engage in illegal internet activity, such as sharing copyrighted material (piracy). Examples of searches that count as what is illegal to search for on the Internet include:

  • “How to download child pornography”
  • “Pornography featuring minors”
  • “Under-age chat room”
  • “Hiring a hitman”
  • “Hiring a prostitute online” (Read our blog for more on prostitution in Texas)

These are just a few very broad examples of the kinds of searches that are what is illegal to search for on the internet and that can get you in trouble with the law. Searches don’t always need to be that specific or obvious, either.

What is illegal to search for on the Internet: Dealing with ambiguity

Generally speaking, if your search implies intent to commit a crime, you could face charges for conspiracy or intent based on the search behavior, and exactly what is illegal to type into Google could depend entirely on the surrounding circumstances of your case. (And if you’re wondering, “Does Google report illegal searches?” yes, it does.)

For example, searching for “child pornography statistics” would not constitute any kind of legal offense, searching for “child pornography downloads” could. Searching for things about murder wouldn’t be an issue unless you were also under investigation for murder, and having searched “is it illegal to search for child pornography?” will look more suspicious than investigative if you’re accused of sex crimes involving a child.

What is illegal to search for on the Internet: Internet activity

The laws surrounding online behavior aren’t always black and white. Many wonder, “can you go to jail for looking at a website?” or “what if I accidentally stumble upon illegal internet sites?” These are fair questions.

Generally speaking, you must actually engage in illegal activity through a website in order for it to be considered criminal activity. For instance, you could visit a website that sells illegal drugs or offers illegal downloads of copyright material, but as long as you don’t purchase or download anything, you’re not committing a crime.

Child pornography is completely different. The laws for possession of child pornography DO NOT require you to download or physically posses sexually explicit images of a minor in order to be guilty of possession. When you view child pornography online, that activity is stored in your computer cache, which qualifies as possession of child pornography in Texas.

In other words, even visiting a website that hosts child pornography can be considered a crime. Anonymity does not apply, either; police can use your IP address to trace your search and download behavior and obtain a warrant for your arrest.

In trouble because you didn’t know what is illegal to search for on the Internet? You need The Wilder Firm.

What is illegal to search for on the Internet isn’t always clear. If you’ve been charged with a crime based on your online search behavior, you need a strong criminal defense lawyer on your side. Doug Wilder is an experienced defense attorney who knows every aspect of laws regarding child pornography, Texas sexting laws, and aggravated sexual assault in Texas.

Don’t leave your freedom up to chance. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.