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Wyden, others intro bill to better fund fight against online child exploitation

KTVZ file

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.,  Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., introduced legislation Wednesday to confront online child exploitation and reverse a decade of underfunding key enforcement and prevention efforts. 

The Invest in Child Safety Act would direct $5 billion in mandatory funding to investigate and target the pedophiles and abusers who create and share child sexual abuse material online. And it would create a new White House office to coordinate efforts across federal agencies, after DOJ refused to comply with a 2008 law requiring coordination and reporting of those efforts. It also directs substantial new funding for community-based efforts to prevent children from becoming victims in the first place.  

“Dogged reporting put a spotlight on the failures of the executive branch and Congress to respond to disgusting crimes against children that are shared online,” Wyden said. “Our bill will finally provide agencies with enough investigators and prosecutors to confront this menace, fund the organizations who help protect at-risk kids from becoming victims, and provide aid to survivors.

“Nothing is more heinous than sexual abuse of child, but our ability to combat these crimes has not kept up with technology. This critical legislation will give federal law enforcement and prosecutors the tools to take on the scourge of child exploitation, prevent its occurrence and support victims and their families,” U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said.

“Last year, tech companies reported more than 45 million instances of child sexual abuse material being circulated online. The proliferation of these heinous crimes are overwhelming law enforcement agencies and they need support to stop these perpetrators,” said Senator Casey. “The Invest in Child Safety Act would increase the funding to employ more staff and expand resources to help prevent, detect and prosecute sexual abuse crimes against children.”

“We have a collective responsibility to protect our children from online predators, and it’s increasingly important as more of our children turn to technology for education and entertainment. This sweeping legislation will ensure the Justice Department has the resources to properly investigate and prosecute online predators, while putting the wellbeing of victims and their families first,” said Brown.

“Protecting children must be the top priority of policymakers, and we must do everything we can to combat the plague of child sexual exploitation,” said Rep. Eshoo. “I’m proud to partner with Senator Wyden to introduce the Invest in Child Safety Act to ensure that Congress provides meaningful funding to support victims and prosecute criminals.”

The House legislation is cosponsored by: Reps.Kathy Castor, D-Fla., Ann M. Kuster, D-N.H., Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., and Deb Haaland, D-N.M.

Despite clear congressional mandates, the Justice Department not only never requested additional funding to address this growing scourge, the agency’s current budget actually cuts more than $60 million from programs to prevent child exploitation and support victims. Instead, it has demanded backdoors in encryption, which would weaken security for every American, and make it easier for pedophiles and other predators to find and exploit children and other vulnerable populations. 

The bill is endorsed by: The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, National Children’s Alliance, Child Welfare League of America, Center for Democracy and Technology, Family Online Safety Institute, and David Kaye, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Expression.

The bill would require a historic, mandatory investment in personal and funding to take on child exploitation, including:

  • Quadruple the number of prosecutors and agents in DOJ’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section from 30 FTEs to 120 FTEs;
  • Add 100 new agents and investigators for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Innocent Images National Initiative, Crimes Against Children Unit, Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Teams, and Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces;
  • Fund 65 new NCMEC analysts, engineers, and mental health counselors, as well as a major upgrade to NCMEC’s technology platform to enable the organization to more effectively evaluate and process CSAM reports from tech companies;
  • Double funding for the state Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces; 
  • Double funding for the National Criminal Justice Training Center, to administer crucial Internet Crimes Against Children and Missing and Exploited Children training programs; 
  • Increase funding for evidence-based programs, local governments and non-federal entities to detect, prevent and support victims of child sexual abuse, including school-based mental health services and prevention programs like the Children’s Advocacy Centers and the HHS’ Street Outreach Program;  
  • Require tech companies to increase the time that they hold evidence of CSAM, in a secure database, to enable law enforcement agencies to prosecute older cases; 
  • Establish an Office to Enforce and Protect Against Child Sexual Exploitation, within the Executive Office of the President, to direct and streamline the federal government’s efforts to prevent, investigate and prosecute the scourge of child exploitation; 
  • Require the Office to develop an enforcement and protection strategy, in coordination with HHS and GAO; and 
  • Require the Office to submit annual monitoring reports, subject to mandatory Congressional testimony to ensure timely execution. 

A copy of the bill text is available here.

A one-page summary of the bill is available here.

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.

Support for the Invest in Child Safety Act

John F. Clark, President and CEO, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children:

“At the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), we bear witness every day to the horrific flow of online child sexual abuse and exploitative material being reported to NCMEC’s CyberTipline. To date, NCMEC has received over 72 million reports to our CyberTipline, and the volume of child sexually abusive materials reported to NCMEC continues to increase every year. The scope and complexity of this problem requires a multi-faceted response, including financial resources to effectively combat the online sexual exploitation and abuse of children online. NCMEC is pleased to support Senator Wyden’s Invest in Child Safety Act. This bill will provide essential, new financial support to help NCMEC, and importantly will also support our law enforcement, nonprofit, and social service partners, as we strengthen our collective fight against online child sexual exploitation and the pernicious proliferation of these images and videos online. On behalf of NCMEC and the families and children we serve, I commend Senator Wyden for sponsoring this important legislation and for his leadership in finding new avenues to help combat the online sexual exploitation of children.

Christine James-Brown, CEO & President, Child Welfare League of America: 

“We know there is strong evidence that child sexual abuse through the internet and social media is exploding at a frightening rate. The child victims are helpless and even hidden from their parents.  With the increased use of the internet and social media during this pandemic, this issue is even more urgent.   We support Senator Ron Wyden’s efforts through the ‘Invest in Safety Act’ to address this by strengthening enforcement mechanisms, pushing to have the  federal government live up to requirements enacted several years ago, and by providing greater support to the child victims and their families.”

Open Technology Institute: 

“Law enforcement agencies at all levels in the United States are significantly under-resourced when it comes to investigating and prosecuting child sexual abuse material online, and only able to pursue a fraction of the cases referred to them. The Invest in Child Safety Act would directly address this problem, providing meaningful resources that would equip law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to more effectively combat this crisis and hold predators accountable.”

National Children’s Alliance:

“We want to thank U.S. Senator Ron Wyden for introducing the Invest in Child Safety Act. Each year, as many as 300,000 American children are at risk of being victimized of commercial sexual exploitation, and the explosion of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) makes it that much easier for child predators to prey on our children. We support the Invest in Child Safety Act not only because it provides necessary resources for Children’s Advocacy Centers to help these children heal, but because it also provides much-needed tools and critical resources that law enforcement and our criminal justice system partners need to combat the full scope of CSAM.”

Chris Calabrese, Vice President for Policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT):

"The Invest in Child Safety Act will make a dramatic impact in combating child sexual exploitation without undermining critical internet security infrastructure or invading the privacy of innocent people. Congressional leaders should make its passage a priority over the coming year."

Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI): 

“Nothing is more important than keeping children safe on and offline, which is why the Family Online Safety Institute is pleased to support the Invest in Child Safety Act. By increasing funding and resources for the Department of Justice, FBI, and NCMEC, great advancements can be made in eradicating child sexual abuse material from the Internet, and prosecuting those responsible for these heinous crimes. FOSI believes that all stakeholders in the online safety community have a role to play in combating the spread of illegal material. Through reasonable government oversight, industry best practices, well resourced law enforcement, empowered parents, informed teachers, and resilient children, we can make the Internet safer for all. We thank Senator Wyden for introducing this bill and for his leadership on this important issue.”

David Kaye, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression:

“I am pleased to see serious legislation that offers a national, rational strategy to combat online child sexual abuse. It does so not by calling into question the digital security of all Americans but by providing law enforcement and others with the tools to prevent the dissemination of such heinous material, investigate and prosecute perpetrators, and treat those harmed.”

Alex Stamos, Director, Stanford Internet Observatory, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University.

"America's tech companies report tens of millions of instances of child sexual abuse per year, but only a tiny portion of those reports are investigated and even fewer perpetrators are prosecuted and convicted. Senator Wyden's Invest in Child Safety Act will address this issue by modernizing the overloaded technical infrastructure used to gather and prioritize these reports, massively increasing the resources available to child safety investigators and hiring prosecutors to deal with the huge backlog of unindicted child abusers." 

Matthew D. Green, Ph.D, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, Johns Hopkins University: 

"As a parent, it’s gratifying to see a bill that provides law enforcement agencies with resources to tackle the serious problem of child sexual exploitation materials online. Unlike other recent proposals, which use Silicon Valley as a scapegoat while failing to fund law enforcement agencies, this bill is a serious attempt to provide resources to the front-line agencies that do this essential work."

Justin Ruben, Co-Director of ParentsTogether Action:

“Even before schools closed, we were facing a crisis of child sexual abuse online. Now, with kids spending more time online than ever before, the FBI has warned that the problem may get even worse. ParentsTogether Action is proud to support the Invest in Child Safety Act, which would help keep kids safe online by providing much-needed resources to law enforcement officials and advocates.”

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