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Subcommittee Approves Wiretap Bill Aimed at Child Pornography Suspects

Legislation (H.R. 1877) that would expand the use of wiretaps by law enforcement agents investigating the sexual exploitation of children was approved, by voice vote, by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime on June 21.

Sponsored by Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT), the bill would allow law enforcement officers 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, or of transporting children for related purposes. Under current law, officers are not allowed to use wiretaps when investigating such crimes.

The subcommittee adopted, by voice vote, an amendment offered by Rep. Mark Green (R-WI) that would allow law enforcement officials to wiretap the conversations of individuals suspected of “buying and selling children for sexual exploitation.”

The subcommittee rejected, by voice vote, two amendments offered by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. One would have authorized the use of wiretaps by law enforcement officials only in cases in which pornography involves the transmission of real-life, rather than computer-generated, child pornography. The other amendment would have added language to the bill authorizing the use of wiretaps only in cases involving child victims.

During a hearing that preceded the mark-up, Rep. Johnson told the subcommittee, “The expansion of limits on wiretaps” is necessary. She emphasized that “times are changing” and laws must be updated to “give law enforcement officers the tools they need” to protect America’s children.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) concurred. “Technology makes children vulnerable to solicitations,” she said, noting that there has been a dramatic increase in the use of the Internet to entice children into sexual activities through chat rooms. “I believe the bill is a good start to acknowledge we have a crisis to deal with,” she added.

Rep. Scott expressed concerns about the privacy implications of the bill, calling it “an unnecessary expansion of wiretap authority.” Rep. Scott warned against making wiretaps “too routine and permitting law enforcement officials to ensnare innocent conversations…most of which will have nothing to do with criminal activity.”

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