RealTime IT News

Congress Gets Real Over Virtual Kiddie Porn

Congress voted overwhelmingly Thursday to support legislation banning the distribution of virtual, or "morphed," child pornography and to give jail time to online pornographers who attempt to mask their sites behind misleading domain names.

The online pornography provisions were amendments added to the Child Abduction Prevention Act, more commonly known as the Amber Alert bill. The House passed the bill on 400-25 vote while the Senate approved the legislation, 98-0. The White House says President Bush will sign the bill.

The legislation incorporates the Truth in Domain Names Act sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.), which establishes fines and jail terms for those who use misleading domain names to attract children to sexually explicit Internet sites. If convicted, offenders could be fined up to $250,000 and/or imprisoned for up to two years.

"The moment President Bush signs this bill the Internet will become safer for children, families and teachers," said Pence. "As millions of Americans do each night, I often help my young children with their homework. What all too often happens, as we surf the Web for useful information to help learn about history and government and science, my young children have the most innocent of intentions and will type in domain names that are absolutely harmless. What pops up, however, isnt. Many times we are taken to sites full of smut, profanity and pornography."

The new legislation also aims to rid the Web of virtual child pornography, which uses digitally altered adults to appear to be children engaging in sex acts. The controversial practice, which was banned by a 1996 law, was ruled by the Supreme Court in April of last year to be protected free speech.

The 6-3 decision striking down the law was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who said the statute was too broad and was unconstitutional. The high court rejected arguments by the Department of Justice that virtual child pornography was directly related to child sexual abuse. The Court said the First Amendment protects pornographers that produce images that only appear to have children engaging in sexual acts.

Since the court ruling, Congress has been attempting to draft legislation to again ban virtual pornography. In February, the Senate passed a new child pornography bill designed to overcome the Supreme Court objections by not defining computer-generated images as obscene but, instead, prohibits the pandering or solicitation of anything represented to be obscene child pornography.

The bill, which passed on an 84-0 vote, requires the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person charged with producing or distributing child pornography intended for others to believe the product was obscene child pornography, which is not protected by the First Amendment. Persons accused under the new law would have to prove that real children were not used in the production of the material.