In most states, teenagers who send or receive sexually explicit photographs by cellphone or computer – sexting” – have risked felony child pornography charges and being listed on a sex offender registry for decades to come. The New York Times says there is growing consensus among lawyers and legislators that the child pornography laws are too blunt an instrument to deal with an adolescent cyberculture in which all kinds of sexual pictures circulate on sites like MySpace and Facebook. Last year, Nebraska, Utah, and Vermont changed their laws to reduce penalties for teenagers who engage in such activities, and this year, says the National Council on State Legislatures, 14 more states are considering legislation that would treat young people who engage in sexting differently from adult pornographers and sexual predators.
Last week, the first federal appellate opinion in a sexting case recognized that a prosecutor had gone too far in trying to enforce adult moral standards. The opinion upheld a block on a Pennsylvania district attorney who threatened to bring child pornography charges against girls whose pictures showing themselves scantily dressed appeared on classmates' cellphones. “There's a lot of confusion about how to regulate cellphones and sex and 16-year-olds,” said law Prof. Amy Adler of New York University. “We're at this cultural shift, not only because of the technology, but because of what's happening in terms of the representation of teen sexuality as you can see on 'Gossip Girl.' “