WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives is taking on people who use the Internet to prey on children, working through bills that would make it easier to monitor and prosecute cyber crimes against juveniles and to educate children about online dangers.
"We need to think of this as a war," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat, sponsor of one of a half-dozen sex predator, child pornography and Internet safety bills heading for passage Wednesday. The bills were put together by the Democratic majority but enjoyed wide bipartisan support.
Her bill would approve spending $1 billion over the next eight years to combat online child exploitation. It would create a Justice Department office to coordinate prosecution efforts; increases money for a program that helps state and local law enforcement; and provides more dollars to hire agents and improve forensic lab capabilities dedicated to child exploitation cases. It passed 415-2.
She said law enforcement has identified nearly 500,000 individuals trafficking in child pornography over the Internet, but because of a lack of resources, only about 2 percent are under investigation.
The other bills would:
— Approve $5 million a year for five years for an initiative that conducts Internet safety programs for children. An additional $5 million a year would go for competitive grants for similar initiatives. The bill passed by voice vote.
— Respond to a court decision last year to throw out a child pornography conviction on the grounds that the material moved on the Internet did not constitute interstate commerce. It would specify that Internet transmissions do fulfill the commerce clause. A vote on the bill sponsored was pending.
— Enhance federal agent and probation officer efforts to monitor the computer use of convicted sex offenders. It would authorize courts to require, as a condition of probation, that convicted sex offenders cooperate in installing Internet filtering and monitoring systems. The bill also would increase prison terms for those who lie about their age in order to engage in criminal sexual conduct with a minor. It passed 417-0.
— Make it easier to prosecute federal child pornography law. The proposal would clarify that knowingly accessing child pornography on the Internet constitutes possession even if the person does not download or save the content. It also would subject those who profit from child pornography to money laundering charges. A vote on the bill was pending.
— Require the Federal Trade Commission to increase public awareness and education about Internet safety. The proposal passed 398-6.