Child Pornography

Child pornography has long been treated severely under both federal and state law. Congress first addressed the issue with the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation Act of 1977. Lawmakers later toughened restrictions in the Child Protection Act of 1984, the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1988, and the Child Protection Restoration and Penalties Enhancement Act of 1990.

In the 1990s, lawmakers twice passed legislation targeting child porn online. The first was the Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA) of 1996, designed both to close loopholes in existing federal child pornography law and address new technological issues by the following:

  • Criminalizing the act of knowingly possessing, selling, receiving, sending, or transmitting child pornography via the internet or email.
  • Criminalizing so-called “virtual, or morphed” depictions of child pornography, those that appear to involve minors and those created by computer graphics software.

The law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that it was overbroad and would also have hurt artistic expression. Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, (2002).

The Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998 contains further anti-child porn provisions. Title II of the law contains the following provisions:

  • Provides for the prosecution of individuals for the production of child pornography if the visual depiction was produced with materials that have been mailed, shipped, or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, including by computer.
  • Tightens previous federal law by making it a criminal offense to possess for even one depiction of child pornography
  • Outlines responsibilities for Internet Service Providers in reporting child pornography to authorities
  • Increases federal criminal penalties for child pornography, which include fines and prison sentences ranging from 15 to 30 years

Inside Child Pornography