New Online Smut Prohibition Bill Introduced
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In the wake of last week's decision by a Pennsylvania appeals court to bar enforcement of the controversial 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA), Rep. Lamar Smith (R.-Tex.) introduced legislation Monday designed to strengthen the laws against online child pornography.
Known as the Child Obscenity and Pornography Act of 2003 (H.R. 1161), Smith's bill would prohibit any offer to sell or buy "real" child pornography, bar obscenity involving pre-pubescent children and minors, and ban showing pornography to children.
Smith predicted the bill would easily pass the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security as early as Tuesday.
Friday's decision marks the second time the lower court has denounced COPA as a law that violates freedom of expression rights. When the first COPA rejection was issued, the Supreme Court reviewed the decision and ruled that the 3rd Circuit could not bar enforcement of the law on the basis that it relies on community standards to identify harmful material.
The law required commercial Web site operators to use credit cards or other adult access systems to prevent minors from viewing the material. COPA imposes criminal and civil penalties of up to $50,000 per day for violations.
Congress drafted COPA in an effort to create a more narrowly defined law than the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996, which the Supreme Court struck down in 1997 as unconstitutional.
"No cyber crime is worse than child pornography," Smith said. "Congress must do everything in its power to protect children from sexual predators. Without amending current law, we face a proliferation of child pornography."
Smith said his legislation also addresses the issue of virtual child pornography, which the Supreme Court last April ruled was constitutionally-guaranteed free speech.
"Sex predators have access to the most vulnerable members of our population," Smith said. "With an estimated 24 million children online, the Internet has proved a useful tool for pedophiles and other sex predators as they distribute child pornography, engage in sexually explicit conversations with children, and hunt for victims in chat rooms."