Millions of commercial Web sites and personal blogs would be required to report illegal images or videos posted by their users or pay fines of up to $300,000, if a new proposal in the U.S. Senate came into law.
After child pornography or some forms of "obscenity" are found and reported, the Web site must retain any "information relating to the facts or circumstances" of the incident for at least six months. Webmasters would be immune from civil and criminal liability if they followed the specified procedures exactly.
In addition to the provisions relating to child pornography, the bill also would ensure that sex offenders will register information relevant to their online activities on sex offender registries. Specifically, it would require sex offenders to register their email addresses, as well as their instant messaging and chat room handles and any other online identifiers they use. If a sex offender failed to do so, he could be prosecuted, convicted, and thrown into jail for up to 10 years. The bill would also make the use of the Internet in the commission of a crime of child exploitation an aggravating factor that would add 10 years to the offender’s sentence.
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced the Stop the Online Exploitation of Our Children Act and submitted the following remarks regarding his legislation for the record: “Mr. President, today I am introducing the Stop the Online Exploitation of Our Children Act of 2006. This legislation would reduce the sexual exploitation of our children, and punish those who cause them physical and emotional harm through sex crimes. Twenty-two years ago, President Ronald Reagan inaugurated the opening of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, known as NCMEC. At a White House ceremony, he called on the Center to “wake up America and attack the crisis of child victimization.” Today, thanks to the efforts of NCMEC and many others in the public and private sectors, America is more conscious of the dangers of child exploitation, but our children still face significant threats from those who see their innocence as an opportunity to do harm. The continuing victimization of our children is readily and all too painfully apparent in the resurgence of child pornography in our world. In recent years, technology has contributed to the greater distribution and availability, and, some believe, desire for child pornography. I say child pornography, but that label does not describe accurately what is at issue. As emphasized by a recent Department of Justice report, “child pornography” does not come close to describing these images, which are nothing short of recorded images of child sexual abuse. These images are, quite literally, digital evidence of violent sexual crimes perpetrated against the most vulnerable among us. Mr. President, experts are also finding that the images of child sexual exploitation produced and distributed today involve younger and younger children. As emphasized by NCMEC, 83 percent of offenders surveyed in a recent study were caught with images of children younger than 12 years old. Thirty-nine percent had images of children younger than six. Almost 20 percent had images of children younger than three. These are not normal criminals, and I cannot fathom the extent of the physical and emotional harm they cause their victims. The violence of the images continues to increase as well. Dr. Sharon Cooper, a nationally recognized expert on this subject, stated before a September Senate Commerce Committee hearing that the images often depict “sadistic gross sexual assault and sodomy.” This view was underscored by Mike Brown, the Sheriff of Bedford County, Virginia, and the Director of the Blue Ridge Thunder Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, who also testified to his direct experience with increasingly violent and disturbing images of child sexual exploitation.
The Federal government has in place a system for online companies such as Internet service providers to report these images to NCMEC. The Center is directed by law to relay that information to Federal and State law enforcement agencies. This reporting system has been successful, but it is in need of several vital improvements.
The bill would enhance the current reporting system by expanding the range of companies obligated to report child pornography to NCMEC; stating specifically what information must be reported to the Center; moving the reporting obligations into the Federal criminal code; imposing higher penalties on companies that do not report child pornography to NCMEC in the manner required by law; and providing greater legal certainty around the child pornography reporting requirement.
As suggested by NCMEC, the reporting of child pornography should be more widespread. To that end, the bill would expand and clarify the types of online companies that would be obligated to report child pornography to the Center. Today, Federal law requires electronic communication service providers and providers of remote computing services to report child pornography they discover to NCMEC through the Center’s CyberTipline. However, what types of companies fall into each category is sometimes unclear. To better define and expand the types of online companies obligated to report child pornography, the legislation would require a broad range of online service providers – including web hosting companies, domain name registrars, and social networking sites – to report child pornography to NCMEC.
Another weakness in the current reporting system is that the law does not say exactly what information should be reported to NCMEC. This failure to set forth specific reporting requirements makes the current statute both difficult to comply with and tough to enforce, and this omission may have led to less effective prosecution of child pornographers. According to testimony submitted by the Center to the Senate Commerce Committee, “because there are no guidelines for the contents of these reports, some [companies] do not send customer information that allows NCMEC to identify a law enforcement jurisdiction. So potentially valuable investigative leads are left to sit in the CyberTipline database with no action taken.” This is unacceptable, Mr. President.
The bill would cure this problem by requiring that reporting companies convey to the Center a defined set of information, which is in large part the information that is provided to NCMEC today by the nation’s leading Internet service providers. Among other things, the bill would require online service providers to report specific information about the individual involved in producing, distributing, or receiving child pornography such as that individual’s e-mail address. In addition, it would require reporting companies to NCMEC geographic location of the involved individual such as the individual’s physical address and the IP address from which the individual connected to the Internet.
Mr. President, to ensure that law enforcement officials have better odds of prosecuting involved individuals, the bill would also require online service providers to preserve all data that they report to NCMEC for at least 180 days, and to not knowingly destroy any other information that they posses that relates to a child pornography incident reported to NCMEC.
The legislaton would help ensure greater compliance with the child pornography reporting requirements under Federal law by increasing three-fold the penalties for knowing failure to report child pornography to NCMEC. It would also move the reporting requirement from title 42, which relates to the public’s health and welfare, to title 18, our Federal criminal code. This is to underscore that a breach of the reporting obligations is a violation of criminal law. In addition, the Act would eliminate the legal liability of online service providers for actions taken to comply with the child pornography reporting requirements. The bottom line, Mr. President, is that this legislation should result in more thorough reporting of child pornography to NCMEC. I expect that more and better information provided to the Center will lead to a greater number of prosecutions and enhanced protection of our children. As stated by NCMEC, with improvements to the reporting system there would be more reports that are actionable by law enforcement, which will lead to more prosecutions and convictions and, more importantly, to the rescue of more children. In addition to the provisions relating to child pornography, the bill also would ensure that sex offenders will register information relevant to their online activities on sex offender registries. Specifically, it would require sex offenders to register their email addresses, as well as their instant messaging and chat room handles and any other online identifiers they use. If a sex offender failed to do so, he could be prosecuted, convicted, and thrown into jail for up to 10 years. The bill would also make the use of the Internet in the commission of a crime of child exploitation an aggravating factor that would add 10 years to the offender’s sentence. Mr. President, to help address the international nature of child pornography, the bill would permit NCMEC to share reports with foreign law enforcement agencies, subject to approval by the Department of Justice. In addition, the Act would state the sense of Congress that the executive branch should make child pornography a priority when engaging in negotiations or talks with foreign countries. Finally, the Act would authorize $20.3 million for our Nation’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces. This increase of $5 million above that currently requested by the Administration is recommended by NCMEC, Sheriff Brown, and others who believe that the additional amount would significantly improve the efforts of these teams of Federal, State, and local law enforcement officials dedicated to identifying and prosecuting those who use the Internet to prey upon our Nation’s children.
Mr. President, protecting our children is a top priority for members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation. This legislation would help us achieve that goal. I look forward to working with my colleagues to debate and move this bill through the legislative process during the next Congress.”
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