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Democrats introduce legislation to protect children from online exploitation

Democrats introduce legislation to protect children from online exploitation
© Aaron Schwartz

Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday introduced legislation to protect children against online exploitation and crackdown on predators. 

The Invest in Child Safety Act would increase the number of agents at the FBI and the Department of Justice investigating child exploitation and obscenity, along with doubling funding for the Justice Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. 

The legislation would also require tech companies to extend the time they securely store evidence of potential child sexual abuse to enable prosecution of older cases and would establish an office within the executive branch to direct the federal government’s response to child exploitation cases. 

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The bill was introduced in the Senate by Democratic Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Dow falls more than 900 points amid fears of new COVID-19 restrictions | Democrats press Trump Org. about president's Chinese bank account | Boeing plans thousands of additional job cuts Democrats press Trump Organization about president's Chinese bank account Plaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation MORE (Ore.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOcasio-Cortez says she doesn't plan on 'staying in the House forever' Internal Democratic poll: Desiree Tims gains on Mike Turner in Ohio House race Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter's handling of New York Post article raises election night concerns | FCC to move forward with considering order targeting tech's liability shield | YouTube expands polices to tackle QAnon MORE (N.Y.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Two Loeffler staffers test positive for COVID-19 Healthcare, retirement security seen as top issues for older voters, lawmakers say MORE (Penn.), and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Dow falls more than 900 points amid fears of new COVID-19 restrictions | Democrats press Trump Org. about president's Chinese bank account | Boeing plans thousands of additional job cuts Democrats press Trump Organization about president's Chinese bank account Brown says Biden's first moves as president should be COVID relief, voting rights MORE (Ohio). The bill was also introduced in the House by Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHow to expand rural broadband, fast and affordably Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Lawmakers introduce legislation to boost cybersecurity of local governments, small businesses MORE (D-Calif.) and several other Democratic lawmakers. The bill does not have any Republican co-sponsors. 

Wyden said in a statement that the bill would provide funding to help address the “menace” of child exploitation online, along with funding organizations that protect children. 

“Nothing is more heinous than sexual abuse of child, but our ability to combat these crimes has not kept up with technology,” Gillibrand said in a separate statement. “This critical legislation will give federal law enforcement and prosecutors the tools to take on the scourge of child exploitation, prevent its occurrence and support victims and their families.”

Several children’s organizations have thrown their support behind the bill, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the National Children’s Alliance, the Child’s Welfare League of America and the Family Online Safety Institute.

David Kaye, the special rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression for the United Nations, also expressed his support for the bill. 

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“I am pleased to see serious legislation that offers a national, rational strategy to combat online child sexual abuse,” Kaye said in a statement. “It does so not by calling into question the digital security of all Americans but by providing law enforcement and others with the tools to prevent the dissemination of such heinous material, investigate and prosecute perpetrators, and treat those harmed.”

The bill is not the first to be introduced this year that is meant to protect children online.

Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Election night could be a bit messy The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, Biden blitz battleground states Late donor surges push election spending projections to new heights MORE (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the EARN IT Act in March, which would hold tech companies accountable for images of child exploitation spread on their platforms. The bill faced immediate backlash from tech trade groups and has not yet moved in the Senate.