A Sampler of Federal Criminal Statutes Regarding Pornography and Sexual Activity  -  

And an Extract  from The United States Attorney's Manual

Milwaukee Publlic Library

Federal Obscenity Criminal and Forfeiture Statutes

  • 18 USC § 1460 - Possession with intent to sell, and sale, of obscene matter on Federal property

  • 18 USC 1461 Mailing obscene matter
  • 18 USC 1462 Importation or transportation of obscene matter
  • 18 USC 1463 Mailing indecent matter on wrappers or envelopes
  • 18 USC 1464 Broadcasting obscene language
  • 18 USC 1465 Production and transportation of obscene matters for sale or distribution
  • 18 USC 1466 Engaging in the business of selling or transferring obscene matter
  • 18 USC 1466A Obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children
  • 18 USC 1467 Criminal Forfeiture
  • 18 USC 1468 Distribution of obscene matters by wire
  • 18 USC 1469 Presumptions
  • 18 USC 1470 Transfer of obscene matters to minors

Child Pornography Abatement - Record Keeping

The Mann Act - Transporting Persons for Sexual Purposes - The Travel Act  - Abuse of Minors

  • 18 USC 2421 Transportation of persons for prostitution or criminal sexual activity
  • 18 USC 2422 Coercion or enticement of transportation for these purposes
  • 18 USC 2423 Transportation of minors for criminal sexual activity. Travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct
  • 18 USC 2425 Transmission of information about minors for criminal sexual activity
  • 18 USC 2427 Child pornography included within ambit of these criminal statutes 
  • 18 USC § 1952 - Interstate and foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises

  • 18 USC § 2243 - Sexual abuse of a minor or ward 

  • 18 USC § 1591 - Sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion


US Postal Service

Public Health and Welfare - Search for and Seizure of Materials to be disseminated in interstate commerce

  • 42 USC 2000aa Searches and Seizures of documentary materials by government officers in criminal investigations


  • 47 USC 153 Definitions
  • 47 USC 223 Obscene or harassing phone calls; Sending or displaying offensive material to persons under 18 
  • 47 USC 228 FTC Regulation of Pay per Call
  • 47 USC 230 Blocking and Screening of Offensive material
  • 47 USC 231 Restriction on access of minors to harmful material on the world wide web
  • 47 USC 561 Scrambling of explicit materials on cable TV

Civil Rights Act

  • 42 USC 1983 Civil Action for deprivation of rights under color of state law
  • 42 USC 1985 Civil Action based on conspiracy to violate civil rights
  • 42 USC 1986 Civil Action for failure to prevent violation of civil rights

Stored Communications Privacy and Disclosure, Backups, Mandatory and Voluntary; Actions

Caveat: The foregoing tables are only a sampler of significant federal statutes which may have applicability to pornography. This listing is by no means comprehensive and is not intended to substitute for a careful and professional analysis of federal law. In the American legal tradition, the interpretation of statutes by courts controls their meaning and application to an extent unknown outside the Anglo-american legal tradition, and authoritative interpretation of these statutes by courts must be consulted to understand their real meaning. In addition to federal law, state and local law also need to be examined and understood to assess any enterprise for legality. In other words, it would be a serious mistake to conclude that the foregoing statutes "speak for themselves" or explain themselves. 

Matters concerning underage minors are included in this table so that no reader will have any doubt as to how seriously the United States government takes such matters, how seriously they are punished, and how far the United States extends its jurisdiction toward the abatement of all production and use of such images. United States law in this connection includes statutes which reach outside its territorial limits, as far as spacecraft in flight. See, in particular, 18 USC 2260 and 18 USC 7.

From the United States Attorney's Manual

Title 9  of the US Attorney's Manual provides the most recent, publicly disseminated guidance for prosecution policy in this area, and this is found on DOJ's site at Section 9-75.020:


General Prosecution Policies and Priorities

Prosecution of large scale distributors of obscene material who realize substantial income from their multi-state operations also is encouraged. Prosecution priority should be given to cases in which there is evidence of involvement by known organized crime figures. However, prosecution of cases involving relatively small distributors can have a deterrent effect and would dispel any notion that obscenity distributors are insulated from prosecution if their operations fail to exceed a predetermined size or if they fragment their business into small-scale operations. Therefore, prosecution of such distributors also may be appropriate on a case-by-case basis. In evaluating obscenity cases, substantial deference should be given to the United States Attorney's determination of the viability of the case based upon the factors set forth in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973). Under the legal test of obscenity set forth in that case, material is obscene if, taken as a whole, the average person in the community would find that the material appeals to the prurient interest of its intended audience, depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and a reasonable person would find the material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

[last updated April 2000]


Coordination of Cases and Investigations

CEOS and USAOs will work together to ensure that crimes involving child pornography, child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation and obscenity are vigorously enforced throughout the nation. Generally, such crimes are prosecuted by the USAO in the relevant district. However, CEOS attorneys have substantial experience in prosecuting these types of crimes and they are available to assist in the investigative stage and/or to handle trials as chair or co-chair.
Prior to initiating any activity related to an investigation or prosecution in a district, CEOS shall notify the United States Attorney for that district. If the United States Attorney objects to CEOS initiating the activity, the matter shall be resolved by the Deputy Attorney General. USAOs shall inform CEOS of all significant investigations and cases being prosecuted in the district as well as all significant judicial decisions issued in such cases.
[last updated February 2003]

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