House OKs Stronger Online Child Protections

Legislation toughening penalties for child predators — online and offline — passed the U.S. House of Representatives today on a voice vote.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 creates new criminal penalties for embedding words or images in the source code of a Web site to deceive children into viewing obscene material.

According to the legislation, webmasters would have to have a clear “intent to deceive” before they could be prosecuted under the bill.

The legislation would also create the first U.S. Internet database for parents to search for sex offender information in their communities.

Last week, the Senate passed the same language.

Lawmakers expect President Bush to sign the legislation into law on Thursday, the 25th anniversary of the abduction and murder of Adam Walsh, the six-year-old son of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children founders John and Revé Walsh.

The Internet portions of the bill are part of much wider-ranging bill targeting child predators.

“This bill will protect our children from sexual molesters by keeping these predators behind bars longer and by giving parents more information about sexual offenders who live in their neighborhoods,” bill co-sponsor Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) said in a statement.

In addition to its Internet provisions, the legislation expands state sex offender registration and notification programs, adopting requirements to keep sex offender lists current and shared between states and jurisdictions.

The bill creates a new federal felony crime for sex offenders who fail to register or update their registration information and authorizes federal officials to apprehend unregistered offenders.

The legislation sets a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years for kidnapping a child and a minimum sentence of 30 years for raping a child.

It also would permit the death penalty for sex offenders who murder a child.

“Keeping thorough and extensive records of sexual predators in our communities is the least we can do to protect our children from those who wish to do them harm,” Reynolds said.

“Parents need to know if their neighbor, their plumber or the person who takes care of their lawn is a sex offender.”

There are more than 550,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, but more than 100,000 are currently unaccounted for, prompting the call for the national Internet database.

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