Protecting Our Children Online
By Congressman Joseph R. Pitts
One of the lessons of the 20th century was that we need to learn how to fight the "next war" instead of just learning the lessons of the last one. Technology and tactics are always changing and so are the methods and tactics of war.
The same principle holds true for threats to our children here at home. Child predators are constantly seeking new ways to update their tactics, finding new means of attacking and exploiting kids. The fight against child predators is an important one we dare not lose.
When Congress passed the "Amber Alert" bill, which was designed to help authorities recover missing and exploited children, it underscored this nation's resolve to protect its most cherished natural resource - our children. While that legislation addressed the "real" world, threats posed online in the "cyber world" are just as real.
These threats go beyond children walking to school or being alone on a playground. They penetrate the safety and sanctity of our homes and schools. They are the next war on our children, a war that is already upon us.
This week, the House Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection Subcommittee took up this issue and the solution I propose in the Protecting Children from Peer-to-Peer Pornography (P4) Act. The bill, H.R. 2885, addresses the cyber dangers of file-sharing programs, like KaZaA.
Millions of children go online, download KaZaA, with or without a parent's knowledge, and share files with users around the world. It may sound harmless, but it's not.
Children often use these programs to trade music and images. However, the networks are entirely unregulated and unfiltered. Pornographers know this. They have seized upon this opportunity to use Peer-to-Peer software as a major vehicle to expose tens of thousands of teens to the crudest forms of pornography imaginable.
This allows them to introduce their "product" to boys and girls at a younger, more impressionable age and target would-be victims of molestation and sexual abuse.
Once Peer-to-Peer software is downloaded and installed on a computer, a child can search for files using a keyword like "Brittany Spears" or "Pokemon." Knowing that children search for these types of files, predators mask their pernicious content by using these terms in their file names.
Once those files are downloaded, the owner of the file can instantly communicate with the child using the peer-to-peer chat feature, drawing the child into his dangerous addiction. The worst predators attempt, sometimes successfully, to arrange meetings with these young people once they have established this relationship.
In a 2002 hearing before House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, an FBI spokesman pointed out that pedophiles often lure children into viewing pornography "to encourage their victims to engage in sex." This is the way pedophiles operate - in the real and cyber world.
While parents have focused on making sure their children get to school safely, these predators have snuck into the home through the phone line. Parents don't even know it. Because these programs do not utilize a central server, there are no filters available to parents that work effectively on file-sharing programs. The filters provided with peer-to-peer software also fail to address this threat.
Recently, twelve residents from Suffolk County, New York, were arrested for peddling and possession of child pornography using KaZaA. Their arrest is confirmation of that this threat is real.
This is hardly a First Amendment debate over the right to peddle pornography online. We must realize that this abuse of technology is meant to deliberately harm unwitting children who use the Internet for innocent purposes.
Congress and parents must work together to protect children from this "next war." The P4 Act is a way to make that happen. This bill would require manufacturers of Peer-to-Peer software to clearly explain the risks associated with the software's use. It would require a parent's consent before the software can be used by minors. And it promotes the development of a "do not install" beacon that parents can use to block the downloading of Peer-to-Peer software.
These file-sharing programs have become playgrounds for pornographers and other degenerates who are looking to expose and possibly lure children into their trap.
We must take the next logical step to protect our next generation of leaders, teachers, doctors and business professionals. H.R. 2885 is that next step. It will help us fight and win this "next war" on our children.