A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives March 27 would make it a crime to knowingly use an innocent-sounding domain name—such as WhiteHouse.com—to lure children to an adult-oriented web site.
The bill, which primarily is intended to create a notification network for child abduction cases, also contains a measure to ban computer-based simulations of child pornography.
H.R. 1104, called the Child Abduction Prevention Act (CAPA), was approved by the House 410-14, but not before lawmakers added these two technology-related amendments. The legislation “not only gets the word out after a kidnapping, but it also takes strong steps to keep them from happening in the first place,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
CAPA originally was intended to create an “Amber Alert” notification system for child kidnapping cases. The system is named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl abducted in Arlington, Texas, and later found murdered.
The legislation would create a national child kidnapping notification network and would provide matching grants to states and communities for equipment and training. Through the system, bulletins about kidnapped children and their abductors would be distributed quickly through radio and television broadcasts and electronic highway signs.
President Bush said he would sign the legislation “as quickly as possible.” But while the Senate has approved its own version of the Amber Alert legislation, it has not approved some of the other measures attached to the House version, meaning a compromise committee will have to be formed.
At press time, it was unclear when this committee would begin its work or how long it would take, though Democrats said the House’s action means nothing will get to Bush on this issue for months.
“I hope a conference committee acts quickly on a bill to strengthen Amber Alerts, but abducted children don’t have time to wait for politics as usual,” said Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas.
Sensenbrenner said the Senate’s bill didn’t go far enough in protecting children.
“It might make some [people] feel good, but it will not help protect America’s children from kidnapping and sexual abuse in the first place,” he said.
Under Sensenbrenner’s bill, which also adds new punative measures for sex offenses, people accused of raping or abducting children would be denied bond and held in jail until their trials. The statute of limitations on child abductions and sex crimes would be eliminated, and life sentences would be required for twice-convicted sex offenders.
Senators said they would work to find some middle ground.
“This is critical legislation that we should pass right away,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. “We can’t let controversial provisions—regardless of their intent or merit—sentence this bill to a legislative limbo.”
The domain-name amendment, drafted by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., is similar to a bill that Pence introduced during the last session of Congress and reintroduced this year.
Under Pence’s amendment, anyone who uses a misleading domain name to lure people into visiting an obscene web site would face up to two years in prison, and anyone who tries to lure a minor to a sexually explicit site that is “harmful to minors” would face up to four years in prison. The measure would apply to all domain names, even those in other countries.
“The internet can be used to deceive children into viewing inappropriate material,” Pence said in a statement. “These web sites use legitimate-sounding domain names to lure children to sites with sexually explicit material. Imagine your own child visiting a web site with a domain name that sounds like it contains educational or child-related materials, only to have a lewd image pop up on the monitor.”
The amendment to ban computer-generated child pornography was added to the House bill in response to last year’s Supreme Court ruling that part of a 1996 law intended to stop such pornography was unconstitutionally vague.
The Senate approved its own “virtual” child porn measure in February (See “Congress tries again to crack down on child pornography,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/ news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4257).
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