May 28, 2008

PROTECTING OUR KIDS--ONLINE

By Senator Mike Crapo

The Internet is the centerpiece of our Information Age. It brings the world to our fingertips and takes us thousands of miles away at the click of a mouse. It has fundamentally altered research on any topic, and has increased interpersonal communication to a degree unimagined a generation ago. From facilitating medical outreach to rural areas to creating an entirely new form of global commerce that gives consumers instantaneous access to just about any product in the world, the Internet is, in short, a revolution. As you know, with all the good comes a word of warning: unregulated, unlimited communication has a downside, particularly with regard to children. The United States Senate has declared June "Internet Safety Month," a time for parents, educators, law enforcement and communities to redouble their efforts to make our children aware of the dangers lurking on the Internet, particularly the extreme danger posed by Internet predators.

Statistics show that 31 percent of children who use the Internet have the technical skill to circumvent Internet filtering software. Sixty-one percent of students admit to using the Internet unsafely or inappropriately, and 20 percent of middle and high school students have met face-to-face with someone they first met online. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, approximately one in seven youth online (10 to 17 year olds) received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet; 34 percent had an unwanted exposure to sexual material; and, only 27 percent of the youth who encountered unwanted sexual material told a parent or guardian.  If the encounter was defined as distressing (episodes that made them feel very or extremely upset or afraid) 42 percent told a parent or guardian. Thirty-six percent of "dual offenders," defined as those who had both sexually victimized children and were in possession of child pornography, sent child pornography to law enforcement posing as children online.

In addition to Internet Safety Month, the Senate also recently passed S. 431, the Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators (KIDS) Act. This legislation requires the registration of email and instant messaging addresses of sex offenders on a sex offender's profile on the National Sex Offender Registry. Under the KIDS Act, failure to register such identifiers will be punishable by a fine or imprisonment. The KIDS Act also requires the U.S. Department of Justice to maintain a system allowing commercial social networking website companies to compare identifiers of registered or potential users of those sites to a list of identifiers of registered sex offenders. Finally, the bill makes it a federal crime for anyone who is at least 18 years old to misrepresent their age when communicating over the Internet with the intent to engage in or facilitate criminal sexual contact with a minor.

The KIDS Act, combined with the declaration of June as Internet Safety Month sends a strong message that Congress takes very seriously the devastating crime of Internet predation of children. Statistics and firsthand accounts of children and law enforcement reveal very frightening data on the pervasiveness of online sexual predation. Pedophiles operate more than 10,000 websites, and hundreds more are created monthly, chilling when you consider that 35 million children from kindergarten to grade 12 have Internet access. This is an international issue rendering national and state boundary lines irrelevant. While the Internet serves as an effective information tool, parents absolutely must be aware of their children's online behavior and habits as well as those with whom their children communicate. For more information about online safety, visit my website: http://crapo.senate.gov