While most of the activity in Washington this week was all about the financial meltdown, the Senate did move forward with a bill that offers additional help against on line child exploitation, consistent with the global BloggerPower project supported by Force for Good.
CNET reports that the Protect Our Children Act, introduced by Joe Biden, made it through the Senate Thursday. Separate bills by John McCain and Hillary Clinton were folded into the legislation, which authorizes more than $320 million for the Justice Department over the next five years for, among other things, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The bill would affect how Internet companies report on-line child pornography to authorities, and it approves funds for law enforcement to focus on on-line child exploitation. And, yes, Barrack Obama is one of the bill's co-sponsors so there should be no disagreement between the Presidential campaigns on the merits of this legislation.
Update on the Blogger Power Project: In the weeks and months since Mihaela Lica and I launched this project to unite bloggers in an effort to help make the Internet safer for children, hundreds of blog authors from all over the world have joined the project. It is an amazing testament to the power of connectedness over a shared idea.
But what real action has been effected by this global networking? It's doubtful that any pornographers have added safeguards to their sites because of our high-minded but toothless campaign. That's a reminder of the necessity of participating in the political process to enact real change.
So I have been in correspondence with U.S. Congressman Thaddeus McCotter. Here's an excerpt from his reply.
Dear Mr. Harmon:
Thank you for informing me of your opposition to child predators and the posting of pornographic material on the internet. Your thoughts on this important matter are most welcome and appreciated.
As a co-sponsor of H.R. 719 and H.R. 837, I agree with you.
As you know, the societal scourge of pornography must be eradicated. Clearly, the availability of exploitive photographs, films, videos, and other visual depictions on the internet inflicts psychological harm upon all involved. As a husband and father, of three (3) young children, I have earnestly co-sponsored legislation which aims to mitigate pornographic material and punish child predators.
To end this danger to our children and traditional virtues, on January 30, 2007, Representative Earl Pomeroy (ND) introduced H.R. 719, the Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators Act, which I have co-sponsored. If enacted, this legislation would track child predators by requiring convicted sex offenders to submit to the National Sex Offender Registry any of their electronic mail or instant message addresses and other similar identifiers used during Internet communications. H.R. 719 would also require the Attorney General to maintain a system allowing commercial social networking websites to compare their user databases against the National Sex Offender Registry. Moreover, this legislation would impose a fine and/or prison term of up to ten (10) years for failure to provide such information for the database; and up to twenty (20) years for age misrepresentation with the intent to engage in criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Presently, this legislation awaits action in the House Judiciary Committee.
Subsequently, on February 6, 2007, Representative Lamar Smith (TX) introduced H.R. 837, the Internet Stopping Adult Facilitating the Exploitation of Youth Act, which I have co-sponsored. If enacted, this legislation would prohibit financial transactions or internet hosting sights which facilitate access to, or the possession of, child pornography. Furthermore, H.R. 837 would increase the monetary penalties for willful failure to report child pornography and for the sexual exploitation of children. Presently, this legislation awaits action in the House Judiciary Committee.
In the meantime, rest assured, your concerns regarding this issue will be well remembered during the 110th Congress.
Please let Mihaela and me know if you've had success in reaching a meeting of the mind with your elected officials -- perhaps we can someday bring together political leaders from all over the world in the hope of really making the Internet safer for our children.
Mig Lica, author of eWritings - Online Public Relations, and I have launched this initiative to urge "adult website" operators to make it more difficult for minors to view explicit content by requiring a log-in. We welcome your participation and your ideas to drive this initiative forward.
You can begin by displaying one of the Blogger Power logos on your blog with a link to the homepage. Speak out about this issue when you get a chance -- send your elected officials a brief email explaining the importance of protecting our children's innocence and including the link.
Be sure to stress that THIS IS NOT ABOUT RESTRICTING ANYONE'S FREE SPEECH. That will continue to be the biggest objection to overcome. We're just asking for a common sense safeguard to protect children from pornography.
There is power in numbers and also power in the breadth of a movement. So far the writing has come from Germany and the USA; the artwork from Scotland and Canada ... we've launched a "Blogger Power" community on mybloglog just days ago and it already has members from Canada, England, Portugal, Taiwan ... and, of course, from Germany and the USA.
Help spread the word. Thanks for your consideration ... and action.
It was hard to know which aspect of the horrific news out of Austria today was the most sickening. Investigators who undoubtedly have seen the most gruesome, repugnant cases of child pornography imaginable, uncovered a Russian Internet site featuring “the worst kind of sexual abuse of children” they had ever seen. Police monitored the site for 24 hours before busting the site – in that time they recorded more than 8,000 visitors to the site from 77 countries.
The site featured children, all under the age of 14 and some reportedly much younger, being raped and sexually tortured; their screams plainly audible. Visitors to the site each paid the equivalent of US$89 to view this despicable filth.
I can’t bear to write another word about the incredible godless inhumanity that could inspire either the torturer-pornographers or the site’s thousands of paying customers.
Instead I turn to a less sensational but even more pervasive threat to our children. Not child pornography per se, but the accessibility of pornography to children. Many “adult” sites entice visitors with lurid, sometimes grotesquely graphic, images without making the slightest effort to keep minors out.
Often children visit these sites accidentally. And, of course, sometimes they seek them out, letting natural curiosity get the best of them. In any event, the exposure of these images to children eats away at their innocence, an incalculable tragedy in itself. Even worse, exposure to warped, often violent, sexual images by young, impressionable minds almost certainly contributes to the possibility of their deviant behavior later in life. I don’t know how anyone could dispute the assertion that repeated exposure of pornography to children is harmful to them, affecting their perceptions of men and women and relationships later in life.
It’s time for the people who most love the global idea-sharing, peer-connecting amphitheater of simultaneous conversations that is the Internet to help make it safer for our children.
Yes, bloggers, we’re calling you out.
In the next few days you are going to hear more about a joint project undertaken by Mihaela “Mig” Lica and myself. (Mig writes passionately about this subject on her site today -- I encourage you to read her post but warn you that she includes details that are sickening.) Regular readers of Force for Good will remember my interview of Mig January 30 on the future of web design. That interview led to an on-going conversation between us. And then Mig asked if I would help her develop and launch this ambitious project.
What can a German author of a blog on "SEO Web Design and On-line Public Relations” and the American author of this barely-two-month-old blog about "aspirational public relations" hope to accomplish? Nothing less than a global initiative to encourage sites hosting adult content to help keep minors out by adding a simple registration gateway. The registration will stop most children, afraid of getting caught or who landed their accidentally, from going any further.
And we need your help.
We believe there is great power in the collective outcry of the many, many citizen journalists we hope to join this cause. We will ask governmental agencies for legislation requiring these safeguards. We also will ask corporations to join the effort – those generating revenue through e-commerce have a vested interest in helping to keep their money engine, the worldwide web, responsive to the demands of their customers. And as customers we should demand a safer web for our children.
This is not about restricting free speech or in preventing legal adult sites from making money. This is only about helping reduce the exposure of pornographic images to children.
Okay, we know there are some holes in the plan. Operators of adult sites undoubtedly believe that any requirement of identification cuts down on traffic to the site. Ultimately, they don't make money until visitors provide credit card information -- but they are operating on a model built on large numbers of casual visitors viewing limited, but enticing content, and some subset of that population getting hooked enough to pay to see more. Clearly the adult sites don't want any restrictions of any kind, even those limiting their non-paying visitors, including children.
So we need your ideas on how best to encourage adult sites to do the right thing to keep children out. These web site operators are not the kind of people who are easily shamed out of bad behavior.
Mig and I encourage your ideas and welcome your support. More on this project on both our sites in coming days.