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Pornography and Predators: Basic Facts/Legal Issues
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Pornography and Predators: Basic Facts/Legal Issues

pp_li_arrow1_blank What is Pornography
pp_li_arrow2_blank Where does Pornography come from?
pp_li_arrow3_blank Sexual Predators
pp_li_arrow4_blank Legal Issues
ppnav_sub_arrow4 pp_li_li_1dots Pornography and the First Amendment
Internet Laws
pp_li_li_3dots Regulatory Agencies: The FTC and FCC
Pornography and Predator - hand on key board


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 Congress’s first attempt to regulate children’s 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 Children’s 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.

Sexual Predator Laws
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.

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