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House Passes Internet Safety Measures to Protect Children

This week, the House passed several bills to protect children from pornography, sexual predators, and other Internet crimes, and to enhance technology to safeguard families from cyber threats.

The SAFER NET Act

On November 13, the House passed, 398-6, a bill (H.R. 3461) to establish a public awareness campaign regarding Internet safety. The Safeguarding America’s Families by Enhancing and Reorganizing New and Efficient Technologies Act of 2007 (the SAFER NET Act) was sponsored by Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL).

The bill authorizes $5 million for FY2008 for the Federal Trade Commission to carry out a nationwide campaign to encourage safe Internet practices, including outreach to local and state government agencies, schools, police departments, and nonprofit organizations. The bill also would establish an Online Safety and Technology working group to evaluate the communication industry’s efforts to promote Internet safety.

Internet Crime Prevention

On November 13, the House passed, by voice vote, a bill (H.R. 4134) to provide grants for Internet crime prevention education programs programs that “serve to educate parents, children, educators, and communities about how to recognize and prevent potentially criminal activity on the Internet.”

Sponsored by Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA), the bill would authorize $5 million per year for FY2008 through 2012 to create and administer a competitive grant program for organizations to provide Internet crime prevention education programs. The bill also would authorize $5 million per year for FY2008 through 2012 for i-SAFE, Inc. for such programs. The bill also would define “potentially criminal activity” to include “sexual or racial harassment, cyberbullying, sexual exploitation, exposure to pornography, and privacy violations.”

Rep. Sánchez said, “The Internet is a powerful tool for progress that is transforming the way our society obtains and shares information. But, unfortunately, the Internet also carries risks when misused as an avenue for predators, bullies, and thieves. Last year, one in five children received a sexual solicitation, or [was] approached inappropriately via the Internet. Unfortunately, numerous children have already become victims of unspeakable physical harm or have suffered irreparable mental injuries from online predators.” She added, “Sexual predators are not the only danger facing youth online…bullies are using their cell phones and the Internet to torment their peers. This literally means that kids can be bullied any hour of the day or night and even within their own homes. And, because it is not face-to-face, cyberbullying can be much crueler and present a whole new set of dangers. Cyberbullying can have serious consequences and inflict lasting wounds on young people. Studies have found that bullying can negatively impact the academic performance, self-esteem, and mental and physical health of children. Whenever I discuss bullying, I inevitably hear one person ask, ‘What is wrong with a little bullying? It makes you stronger. It builds character.’ Builds character? Really? It is important to realize that students who are bullied are more likely to be depressed and commit suicide. So many of the horrifying school shootings in recent years have been linked to bullying that it can no longer be viewed as a rite of passage. Bullying and harassment must be treated as the violent and damaging behaviors that they are.”

The PROTECT Our Children Act of 2007

On November 13, the House passed, 415-2, the Providing Resources, Officers, and Technology to Eradicate Cyber Threats to (PROTECT) Our Children Act of 2007 (H.R. 3845). The bill would establish a special counsel for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction within the Justice Department, improve the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), increase resources for regional computer forensic labs, and make other improvements to increase the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute child predators.

Specifically, the measure would authorize $60 million in FY2008, $75 million per year for FY2009-2013, and $100 million for FY2014-2015 for the office of the special counsel and ICAC Task Force. In addition, the bill would authorize $7 million for FY2008-2015 for computer forensic labs; $20 million in FY2008 and 2009, and $25 million for FY2010-2015 to hire additional Federal Bureau of Investigation agents; and $15 million per year for FY2008-2015 to hire additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Speaking in support of her bill, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said, “The Internet has facilitated an exploding multibillion dollar market for child pornography. Tragically, the demand for this criminal market can only be supplied by graphic new images, and these can only be supplied through the sexual assault of more children.” She continued, “At [an October House Judiciary Committee] hearing, a highly respected child exploitation investigator testified that right now there are nearly 500,000 identified individuals in the United States trafficking child pornography on the Internet. That’s half a million people right here in the United States. And law enforcement knows who they are, and they know where they are. But what shocked me the most, and what compelled me to get involved in this issue, is that, due to a lack of resources, law enforcement is investigating less than two percent of these known 500,000 individuals…What was even more shocking is that it is estimated that if we were to investigate these cases, we could actually rescue child victims nearly 30 percent of the time. It is clear that our current efforts are not working. We need a national campaign with everyone joining the fight: that means the full weight of law enforcement, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Congress, the executive branch, parents, and victims’ advocacy groups, and Internet service providers.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) said, “I am proud to be the senior Republican sponsor. This bill needs to be passed…There are over three million images of child pornography on the Internet right now. Three million. And in the last Congress, as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, under my direct request as chairman, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held nine hearings on the problem of Internet child pornography. And it’s more than a problem. It is a vicious, malicious virus, [a] viral disease that has the potential to destroy our children. And at some point in time we have to do something…[T]his bill, the PROTECT bill that’s before us this afternoon, is a good first start. We found out in our hearings last year that the various state and federal agencies didn’t have enough resources. We found out that they didn’t coordinate. And so this bill before us…set[s] up a new special counsel office in the Justice Department…[N]ormally that…probably would not be a good thing to do. But in this case, given the lack of coordination under current law, at a minimum, I think it’s acceptable. And I personally think that it’s commendable.”

The KIDS Act

On November 13, the House approved, 417-0, the Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators (KIDS) Act of 2007 (H.R. 719). Sponsored by Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), H.R. 719 would require convicted sex offenders to register online identifiers, such as e-mail and instant messaging addresses. This information then would be listed in their sexual offender online profile in the National Sex Offender Registry. The attorney general also would maintain a system that would allow commercial networking websites to compare the Internet identifiers of their registered users with those listed in the National Sex Offender Registry. Sex offenders who failed to register these online identifiers would face a fine or up to 10 years of imprisonment. In addition, the KIDS Act would make it a federal crime for anyone over 18 years old to lie about his or her age when communicating over the Internet with the intent to engage in, or facilitate, criminal sexual contact with a minor.

The measure would authorize $5 million per year for FY2008-2013 for the Federal Probation and Pretrial Office to acquire Internet filtering and monitor systems so that probation officers could track the Internet use of convicted sex offenders.

Effective Child Pornography Prosecution Act of 2007

On November 14, the House passed, 410-0, the Effective Child Pornography Prosecution Act of 2007 (H.R. 4120), a bill that clarifies that the production, possession, or distribution, including the transmission, of child pornography over the Internet, affects interstate commerce and, therefore, constitutes a federal crime.

Sponsored by Rep. Nancy Boyda (D-KS), the bill contains a number of findings, including:

  • child pornography is readily available through virtually every Internet technology, including web sites, e-mail, instant messaging, Internet relay chat, newsgroups, bulletin boards, and peer-to-peer networks;
  • the technological ease, lack of expense, and anonymity in obtaining and distributing child pornography over the Internet has resulted in an explosion in the multijurisdictional distribution of child pornography;
  • the Internet is well recognized as a method of distributing goods and services across state lines; and
  • the transmission of child pornography using the Internet constitutes transportation in interstate commerce. Speaking in support of her bill, Rep. Boyda said, “In September of this year, a man…was found guilty of both ‘knowingly receiving’ and ‘knowingly possessing’ child pornography that had ‘been transported in interstate commerce, by any means including by computer.’ Sadly, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision and that offender was acquitted. The court ruled that just because images are obtained on the Internet doesn’t mean that they were necessarily transmitted across state lines. The court essentially then asked Congress to clarify its intent that the Internet is, in fact, interstate commerce, and we will do that with the passage of the Effective Child Pornography Prosecution Act of 2007. This legislation closes the judicial loophole that allowed a guilty man who hurt our children and was allowed to go free. As concerned citizens, as parents, and as members of Congress, Mr. Speaker, we must do all that we can to keep our children safe. That means we must make a commitment to being tough on crime, and to make sure those who violate the law are fully prosecuted, to ensure that the law is so clear that it deters such heinous crimes from ever happening again.”

    Enhancing the Effective Prosecution of Child Pornography Act

    On November 15, the Housed passed, 416-0, a bill (H.R. 4136) to allow federal money laundering laws to be applied to cases involving child pornography production. Sponsored by Rep. Christopher Carney (D-PA), the Enhancing the Effective Prosecution of Child Pornography Act of 2007 also modifies the term “possess” to include using a computer with the intent to view child pornography.

    “This legislation will allow the Department of Justice to more effectively prosecute people who produce child pornography or knowingly access child pornography repeatedly with the intent to view it,” Rep. Carney said. “We are trying to dry up the source of demand for child pornographers. This legislation addresses a component of the problem that has been difficult for prosecutors to combat, the repeat consumer. We need to stop child pornography at the source and we need to stifle the demand. This is not about playing ‘gotcha’ games with anyone accidentally stumbling across a mistyped web address. Rather, this is going after those who repeatedly seek out child pornography and those that continue to produce it.”

    Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) applauded the bill for closing “a loophole in the law that child pornographers use to avoid possession of child pornography by not downloading the material.” He added, “Child pornography is a multibillion-dollar worldwide industry. It is despicable in its scope, and it is vicious in its victimization of children. Money is what fuels this horrific crime. The majority’s proposal in H.R. 4136 takes a limited step to prohibit money laundering offenses as part of a child pornography scheme. But much more is needed. Legislation proposed by our ranking member, [Rep.] Lamar Smith [(R-TX)], and [Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH)], a member of the Judiciary Committee, contains a host of proposals to increase penalties for child predators and pornographers and provides law enforcement tools for combating these heinous crimes in a virtual universe. Unfortunately, the majority chose to ignore the improvements proposed by many Republican members.”

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