Since 1996, Congress has passed several laws that
address sexually explicit materials and sexual predation
found on the Internet, including:
- The Communications Decency Act (CDA):
Passed in 1996, the CDA represents Congresss first attempt to regulate
childrens access to sexually explicit material on the Internet.
The CDA made it illegal to put indecent content on the Internet
where kids could find it. However, the Supreme Court unanimously declared
the CDA unconstitutional in 1997 in Reno v. ACLU for broad
suppression of speech addressed to adults; the term indecent
was found to be too vague.
- The Child Online Protection Act (COPA):
In 1998 a narrower version of the CDA required commercial Web sites
to verify proof of age before giving users access to sexually explicit
material considered obscene for minors. COPA was immediately challenged by the ACLU and other civil liberty organizations, and in 1999 a permanent injunction was ordered against its enforcement. On May 13, 2002, in ACLU v. Ashcroft, the Supreme Court directed a lower court to reexamine its ruling that COPA was unconstitutional. On March 7, 2003, the court again found that COPA was unconstitutional. On June 29, 2004 the Supreme Court kept in place the 1999 lower-court ruling against the enforcement of COPA, but ordered the lower court to consider whether recent advancements in filtering technologies could protect children more or less effectively than the criminal sanctions specified in COPA.
- The Childrens Internet Protection
Act (CIPA): In 2000, Congress enacted CIPA,
which took effect in April 2001, requiring schools and libraries receiving
federal technology funds to install pornography-blocking software on
their computers. The American Library Association filed suit alleging
that the library portion of CIPA was unconstitutional on its face.
On May 31, 2002, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of
Pennsylvania agreed. The U.S government appealed that decision, and
on June 23, 2003, the Supreme Court overturned the district court’s
ruling. (The school portion of CIPA has not yet been challenged, so
its constitutionality remains untested.)
Several states have tried to pass legislation that
would protect children by reducing the amount of unsolicited e-mail,
or spam, that comes their way.
Federal laws have been enacted to protect children
from people who lure or attempt to lure them into an offline meeting for
the purpose of performing illegal sexual acts or coercing them to provide
sexually explicit photos of themselves.
In April 2003, Congress passed a law that provides wiretapping authority
for seven sexual offenses, including child pornography and the sexual
exploitation of children. Part of a broader child-protection bill entitled
the Protect Act of 2003, which also mandates the Amber Alert system for
abducted children, this law expands federal law-enforcement agencies
wiretapping authority to catch online predators before they strike.