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. 

The bill was introduced in the Senate by Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Bob Casey (Penn.), and Sherrod Brown (Ohio). The bill was also introduced in the House by Rep. Anna Eshoo (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. 

“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 Graham (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. 

Tags Anna Eshoo Bob Casey Child exploitation Child sexual abuse exploitation Kirsten Gillibrand Lindsey Graham Ron Wyden Senate Sherrod Brown

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