Senate Lawmakers Seek $5 Billion to Track Down Child Predators Without Compromising Encryption

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With the Senate back in session last week, Democratic lawmakers revealed new legislation aimed at drastically expanding the federal government’s resources dedicated to the targeting and prosecution of child predators, developing new technologies to identify child sexual abuse material online, and funding leading community organizations that work to prevent children from becoming victims.

In a nutshell, the Invest in Child Safety Act would create a new Office to Enforce and Protect Against Child Sexual Exploitation, which would manage a Child Sexual Exploitation Treatment, Support and Prevention Fund. The fund would contain $5 billion to be apportioned between 2021 and 2030 to a variety of agencies for programs or activities directed at addressing child sexual exploitation. The Act also makes a few minor changes to the law, including increasing the timeframe that authorities must act on reports about child abuse materials received from online platforms, before the platforms are required to delete those materials.

The bills chief author, Sen. Ron Wyden, credited reporting by the New York Times, with exposing what he called a “failure” by Congress and the White House “to respond to disgusting crimes against children that are shared online.” Chilling investigations by Times reporters Michael Keller and Gabriel Dance last year unveiled the failure of Washington and America’s tech companies to aggressively cut off the circulation of child sexual abuse material online, despite having the technical means to do so.

The bill, which also allots for funding to school-based mental health services, amends the existing law behind the CyberTipline, the nation’s central reporting system for child abuse content, managed by the nonprofit National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), doubling the allotted time companies can preserve digital evidence from 90 days to 180 days. The bill also requires entities reporting to the CyberTipline to preserve illicit material using only methods established by information security experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The Invest in Child Safety Act would additionally lead to the hiring of “not less than 100” new FBI agents and investigators specifically assigned to developing cases against online predators. And it would double funding for various related programs, including the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force, and the National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC), which trains criminal justice professionals in the prosecution and prevention of child victimized cases.

Before it was introduced to the senate, the bill received endorsements from the National Children’s Alliance, the Child Welfare League of America, and the Family Online Safety Institute, as well as David Kaye, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Expression.

“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 Open Technology Institute said in its endorsement. “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 & Exploited Children to more effectively combat this crisis and hold predators accountable.”

Hawley & Associates applauds this remedial legislative action, Congress, organizations, and individuals whose hard work contributes to making the world a safer place for children.