Pornography and Sexual Predators

Federal law regarding pornography on the Internet remained tied up in the courts in 2001. During the previous decade, Congress twice enacted laws aimed at protecting children from exposure to pornography. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 broadly criminalized the dissemination of obscene or indecent material to minors over computer networks but was ruled unconstitutional the following year in Reno v. ACLU. In response, Congress modified the law, enacting the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) of 1998. COPA narrowed the scope of the previous law by criminalizing the act of selling material harmful to minors over the World Wide Web. Following a ruling that it was also unconstitutional, the case was on appeal to the Supreme Court with a decision expected in 2002.

However, while pornography remains widely available on the Internet, child pornography is treated severely under the law. Both federal and state law enforcement agencies routinely target child pornography online, and both U.S. Customs and the FBI maintain programs that encourage citizen reporting of criminal images of minors found on websites.

Specific Internet offenses are targeted in portions of the Protection of Children From Sexual Predators Act of 1998:

  • Provides for the prosecution of individuals for the production of child pornography if the materials have been mailed, shipped, or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, including by computer
  • Requires Internet service providers to report evidence of child pornography offenses to law enforcement agencies
  • Prohibits Federal prisoners from being allowed Internet access without supervision by a government official, and urges that state prisons adopt the same policy
  • Directs the attorney general to request that the National Academy of Science study technological approaches to the problem of the availability of pornographic material to children on the Internet

Inside Pornography and Sexual Predators