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House Committee Passes Bill to Eliminate Child Pornography

On July 28, the House Judiciary Committee approved, 19-10, the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act (H.R. 1981). The Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing on the legislation on July 12 (see The Source, 7/15/11).

As amended, the measure, sponsored by Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX), would require Internet Services Providers (ISPs) to retain for at least 12 months content assigned to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. Under current law, the period of retention varies widely among ISPs, often making it difficult for investigators to identify and apprehend child pornographers on the Internet.

The legislation would grant administrative subpoena power for the purpose of investigating unregistered sex offenders. Under current law, law enforcement officials must obtain a subpoena and then request from the ISP the name and IP address of an individual who is suspected of engaging in unlawful internet pornographic use.

The bill also would increase from ten to twenty years the maximum imprisonment penalty for child pornography offenses involving a child younger than twelve and would protect child witnesses or victims by prohibiting their harassment or intimidation while they testify during a child pornography case.

Under the measure, any person who conducts a financial transaction knowing that it will facilitate access to child pornography would be subject to federal prosecution.

During consideration of the bill, the committee adopted the following amendments:

  • A manager’s amendment by Rep. Smith to shorten from 18 to 12 months the ISP data retention time period, 19-4. The manager’s amendment also would exempt from prosecution credit card companies and other financial institutions that cooperate with child pornography investigations;
  • An amendment by Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA) to require the attorney general to determine the costs incurred by ISP compliance with the bill, by voice vote; and
  • An en bloc amendment by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) to require the attorney general to study the privacy standards implemented by ISPs to protect the new data they would be mandated to collect and to encourage ISPs to report breaches of data to relevant people, by voice vote.

The committee rejected:

  • An amendment by Rep. Scott to reduce the retention time required under the bill from 12 months to 180 days, 12-14;
  • An amendment by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) to strike the authorization for the Marshals Service to issue administrative subpoenas to ISPs to investigate unregistered sex offenders and the websites they visit, 10-17. The amendment also would strike the increased penalties for the possession of child pornography involving a minor under age 12;
  • An amendment by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to eliminate the data retention provision of the bill, 8-15;
  • An amendment by Rep. Scott to authorize $45 million for FY2012 and each subsequent year for additional resources solely dedicated to working on offenses related to sexual exploitation and abuse of minors, 7-11; and
  • An amendment by Rep. Scott to strike the provision that would grant the Marshals Service the authority to subpoena ISPs for information on customers suspected of child pornography offenses, by voice vote. The amendment would have required the Marshals Service to appeal to the attorney general to obtain such subpoenas.
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