The Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate, learn, and conduct business in the 21st century.
Although these advancements have significantly benefited our society, they are also accompanied by a host of dangers that pose the greatest threat to our nation's children. The Internet can be a hunting ground for sexual predators seeking minors to exploit. It has also become a marketplace for pornography - 20 percent of which, disturbingly, involves children. Furthermore, when children and teens go online, odds are they will be exposed to sexual material.
Passage of the Protect Our Children Act will help ensure that sex offenders are brought to justice. The bill establishes a task force at the U.S. Department of Justice that will coordinate the efforts of state and local officials to address online enticement of children, child exploitation and pornography.
Finally, the bill makes significant changes to federal criminal law by allowing expanded prosecution of crimes involving child exploitation, selling or buying children, material involving sexual exploitation of minors or containing child pornography, and obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children.
However, that bill alone is not a complete solution. Two other critical pieces of legislation that I cosponsored will help us tackle every aspect of the issue. Both were also signed into law in October.
The Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators Act mandates that convicted sex offenders register their email addresses, instant messaging screen names, or other identifiers used to communicate over the Internet.
The second bill combats online exploitation by raising awareness of online risks and promoting safe use of the Internet. The Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act creates an Online Safety and Technology Working Group that will assess current parental control technology, blocking and filtering software, and age-appropriate labels for content.
The bill also requires schools receiving funding from the federal Universal Service program to offer age-appropriate online behavior education in the classroom.
In the 21st century, it is neither practicable nor constructive to keep our children out of the expanses of cyberspace.
Parents must have an open dialogue with their children about safe Internet usage and encourage kids to report dangers they encounter online. It is equally important that parents share information with local officials, law enforcement agencies, and advocacy groups.
Together, we can protect our children and stay ahead of savvy predators and changing technology.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is a U.S. Senator for the state of Texas. Readers may contact her via telephone at (210) 340-2885.