Child pornography may be the fastest growing crime in America, increasing an average of 150% per year.
The Justice Department estimates that there are now more than one million pornographic images of children on the Internet. The Department also estimates that one-third of the world's pedophiles involved in organized pornography rings worldwide live in the United States.
Since the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) created the CyberTipline 12 years ago, electronic service providers have reported eight million images and videos of sexually exploited children.
The number of reports to NCMEC's CyberTipline of child pornography, child prostitution, child sex tourism, child sexual molestation, and online sexual enticement of children increased from about 4,000 in 1998 to 102,000 in 2008, an average increase of 200% per year.
H.R. 1981, the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act, enables law enforcement officials to successfully locate and prosecute those who want to hurt our children.
Often, the only way to identify a pedophile who operates a website or exchanges child pornography images with other pedophiles is by an Internet Protocol address.
Law enforcement officials must obtain a subpoena and then request from the Internet Service Provider the name and address of the user of the IP address. Unfortunately, ISPs regularly purge these records, making it difficult if not impossible for investigators to apprehend child pornographers on the Internet.
H.R. 1981 directs Internet Service Providers to retain Internet Protocol addresses to assist federal law enforcement officials with child pornography and other Internet investigations.
This is a narrow provision that addresses the retention of only the Internet Protocol addresses the providers assign to their customers. It does not require the retention of any content. So the bill does not threaten any legitimate privacy interests of Internet users.
Some Internet Service Providers currently retain these addresses for business purposes. But the period of retention varies widely among providers, from a few days to a few months. And providers will even change their own retention periods from time to time. The lack of uniform data retention impedes the investigation of Internet crimes.
H.R. 1981 requires providers to retain these records for 18 months. This mirrors an existing FCC regulation that requires telephone companies to retain for 18 months telephone toll records, including the name, address and telephone number of the caller, plus each telephone number called and the date, time and length of the call.
In effect, this bill merely applies to the Internet what has applied to telephones for decades.
Without the identity of the perpetrator, law enforcement officials cannot track down pedophiles, so they continue to threaten our children.
The Justice Department describes a disturbing trend in child pornography -- that pedophiles who document their sexual abuse of children will only exchange images with other pedophiles who do the same. The result is that people who may have previously only viewed these images now have the incentive to sexually abuse children and produce their own images.
Data retention enables law enforcement officials to catch the abusers and save the children being abused.
Critics contend that data retention is unnecessary because current law already requires ISPs to preserve records at the request of law enforcement agents for 90 days. But ISPs can only preserve the information they still have. By the time investigators discover the Internet child pornography and make the request under this provision, the provider has often already purged the Internet Protocol (IP) address records.
Both Democratic and Republican Administrations have been calling for data retention for a decade.
In January, the Justice Department testified that short or even non-existent retention by providers frustrate criminal investigations.
Every time a provider purges its IP address records, it erases forever the evidence needed to save a child.
In hearings before the Committee this spring, both Attorney General Holder and FBI Director Mueller testified that data retention is invaluable to investigating child pornography and other Internet-based crimes.
H.R. 1981 also creates a new federal offense allowing for federal prosecution of any person who conducts a financial transaction knowing that it will facilitate access to child pornography.
This bill strengthens protections for child witnesses and victims, who are often subjected to harassment and intimidation throughout the trial period. The bill allows a federal court to issue a protective order if it determines that a child victim or witness is being harassed or intimidated and imposes criminal penalties for violation of a protective order. And the bill increases penalties for child pornography offenders in cases that involve children less than 12 years old.
Parents, who once relied on the four walls of their homes to keep their children safe, are now faced with a new challenge. The Internet has unlocked the doors and opened the windows.
The Internet has proved to be of great value in many aspects of our lives. But it has also become a virtual playground for sex predators and pedophiles to distribute child pornography images and encourage others to engage in child pornography.