On May 21, the House approved, 396-11, legislation (H.R. 1877) that would expand the use of wiretaps by law enforcement agents investigating the sexual exploitation of children.
Sponsored by Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT), the bill would allow law enforcement officials to wiretap the conversations of individuals suspected of sending or receiving child pornography, coercing or enticing children to engage in prostitution or other illegal sexual activity, transporting children for illegal sexual activity, or buying and selling children for sexual exploitation. While some crime investigations involving the sexual exploitation of children already allow the interception of communications using wiretaps, others do not. H.R. 1877 would close the gap in the allowable use of wiretaps in the investigation of a suspected child sex offender.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) expressed disappointment that the legislation was being considered under suspension of the rules, which does not allow for consideration of amendments, and said that he opposed the bill.
“I believe that the present bill still represents an unnecessary expansion of federal wiretap authority, a procedure so invasive of the rights of citizens in a free society that it can only be made available for use under circumstances specifically approved by Congress,” he stated.
Citing a hearing at which a law enforcement official testified that wiretap authority would have been helpful in certain successful cases, Rep. Scott added, “Given the intrusive nature and many innocent individuals and conversations it will necessarily ensnare, it is not enough justification for it to be merely helpful to law enforcement. It ought to be necessary.”
“Passage of this bill is not an effort to just be helpful to the FBI,” responded Rep. Johnson. “It is a necessary tool that the FBI must have if they are to track down these predators and to reduce the threat to our children,” she said. “The threat to our children is real; the need to address it is urgent,” she added, citing statistics showing that 1 in 5 children reported having some sexual solicitation on the Internet in 1999.