On June 25, the House approved legislation (H.R. 4623) designed to protect children from indecent material on the Internet. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill on June 19 (see The Source, 6/21/02).
The Child Obscenity and Pornography Protection Act (H.R. 4623) was carefully crafted in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a portion of the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 (CPPA) (P.L. 104-208). In a 6-3 decision on April 16, the Court ruled that the CPPA expanded the definition of child pornography to include simulated images that merely appear to be children engaged in sexually explicit acts as well as real-life images. The Court said that the 1996 law, aimed at protecting minors from child molesters, also could ban legitimate works of art and literature.
H.R. 4623 would outlaw computer-generated images that are indistinguishable from real-life images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The bill also would make it illegal to possess or distribute material that depicts images, real or virtual, of prepubescent children engaged in sexually explicit acts and would prevent child molesters from using pornography to exploit children.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) called the bill “a hasty attempt to override the Supreme Court decision of just two months ago.” He argued, “The Supreme Court has ruled that pornography, computer-generated or not, which is not produced using real children, and is not otherwise obscene, is protected under the First Amendment.”
“The Court was concerned…that the breadth of the language would prohibit legitimate movies like ‘Traffic’ or plays like ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” responded Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), sponsor of the bill. “Limiting the definition to computer images or computer-generated images will help exclude ordinary motion pictures from the coverage of ‘virtual child pornography,’” he added.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) contended, “This bill is clearly unconstitutional, and it is an exercise in pure politics…The attempt by the bill to slightly narrow the definition does not matter. Either it is obscene or it is not. If it is not obscene, it is protected, unless real children were used in the production of it; and if they were not, it is still protected speech, period.”
“This is about protecting our children,” emphasized Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND). “Meetings I have held with prosecutors, with child protection advocates, have made it very clear to me that the use of child pornography is damaging to children, sets them up as targets for ultimate exploitation, and whets the appetite of the exploiters, making them more likely to commit acts against our children,” he said, expressing support for the bill.