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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CHILD PORNOGRAPHY

October 3, 2000 · 

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Published in ECPAT-USA news
(October 2000)

This FAQ answers general questions regarding federal laws on child pornography and the Internet. Remember. federal laws can change and laws differ from state to state. If you have specific legal questions about child pornography and the internet, consuft with a lawyer.

Does federal law prohibit child pornography found on the Internet?
Yes. The Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA), 18 USCS § 2252, criminalizes specific activities related to knowingly possessing, selling, receiving, sending, or transmitting child pornography. For example, the CPPA prohibits knowingly possessing child pornography stored on a computer hard drive or computer disk. Additionally, the CPPA prohibits knowingly transmitting and receiving child pornography via the internet or electronic mail.

Computer technology allows pornographers to create so-called “virtual” images of children. In fact, the children in these images do not exist. Are these images illegal?
The CPPA prohibits virtual child pornography; however, courts are split on whether this prohibition is constitutional and will remain so until the Supreme Court rules on this issue. Currently, no case dealing with virtual child pornography is pending review by the Supreme Court.

Are Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) liable under federal law for websites that depict child pornography on their servers?
The Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998 (Sexual Predators Act) requires that an ISP notify a designated law enforcement agency after learning that a website containing child pornography exists on its server. If the ISP willfully fails to report the website, the ISP can be fined. Congress, however, has stated that the Sexual Predators Act does not require ISP’s to actively monitor websites for violations of federal child pornography laws. To date, the federal government has not prosecuted an ISP for hosting a website that contains child pornography. According to 47 USCS §230, ISP’s are not legally liable for material found on their sites. Generally, ISP’s cooperate with law enforcement agencies and, upon notification, remove sites that include child pornography. ISP’s are required to inform new users that software exists which can filter out and prevent access to objectionable material.

What should I do if I come across a website that exhibits child pornography?
Contactyour local police, the US Customs Service, the FBI or the ISP. You can report the site at www.cybertipline.com.

What should I do if I accidentally download child pornography or receive unsolicited child pornography via email?
The law requires you to destroy any child pornography in your possession or to contact law enforcement officials. If you do not, you can be prosecuted for possessing or receiving child pornography.

I monitor the web for child pornography. Can I be arrested for this?
Regardless of your motivations, you can be arrested if you download child pornography from the internet and store it on a disk or a computer. Also, you are breaking the law if you receive or send child pornography. Juries have convicted several defendants who claimed to be acting as reporters and researchers when they downloaded and distributed child pornography. Also, if you pose as a pedophile in an internet chatroom, your conversations could be used as evidence against you. Moreover, pretending to be a pedophile in an internet chatroom could disrupt a legitimate police ‘sting’ operation. If you wish to monitor the internet and chatrooms for child pornography, be careful to keep an entirely passive role and report what you see to the police.

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