Justice Department moves on a number of fronts
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "give parents the tools and information they need to control what their children see on television and the Internet in ways fully consistent with the First Amendment.” He also promised to "support tough penalties, increased enforcement resources and forensic tools for law enforcement, and collaboration between law enforcement and the private sector to identify and prosecute people who abuse the Internet to try to exploit children."
Here are some of the efforts undertaken during his tenure::
• The administration has increased funding for the Justice Department's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program. The program, founded in 1998, helps state and local law enforcement agencies take on cyber enticement and child pornography cases. In fiscal year 2011, according to the Justice Department, investigations by the task force program led to more than 5,700 arrests and over 45,000 forensic examinations; 40 percent of those arrests led to plea agreements in lieu of trial.
Before Obama took office, in fiscal year 2008, the program received $16.9 million in federal funding. In fiscal year 2009, it received $75 million -- $25 million in regular funding, plus a one-time boost of $50 million from the stimulus. Since then, funding has been stable at $30 million, well above its pre-Obama level.
• On August 11, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission released rules barring certain types of federal funding for schools with Internet access unless they implement Internet safety education, including cyber-bullying awareness and appropriate social networking practices.
• In August 2010, the Justice Department released its first-ever National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, including a pledge to create a national database to share intelligence on offenders and hire 38 new assistant U.S. attorneys specializing in child exploitation cases.
• In September 2010, the Justice Department launched the Defending Childhood initiative, arguing that "children's exposure to violence, whether as victims or witnesses, is often associated with long-term physical, psychological, and emotional harm.” As part of the initiative, the department announced a 13-expert Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, which issued a final report and recommendations in December 2012.
• On October 14, 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder hosted a summit that focused on the prevention, deterrence and interdiction of child sexual exploitation.
• In December 2012, the Federal Trade Commission updated its rule based on the the Children"s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 to cover new electronic-communications innovations such as smartphones and tablets. The original rule required children's website operators to obtain parental permission prior to collecting or sharing personal data. The updated rule expands both the organizations required to comply with the law as well as the types of data covered.
It's worth noting that the rules included some loopholes that benefited companies like Apple and Facebook, CNET reported. They apply only to sites geared toward children, not general social media sites, and they don't apply to ad networks unless the networks have "actual knowledge” that they are collecting data from child-oriented sites. In addition, CNET reported, Apple's App Store won't be required to confirm that their apps abide by the new law.
Separately, the Justice Department has taken some heat for its caution in joining, and even hostility toward, an aggressive legal effort that seeks restitution for child pornography victims from defendants who possess their images.
Some advocates consider the administration's moves on child exploitation to be mixed, and some of the the Justice Department's actions represent the conclusion of efforts begun under President George W. Bush. However, the Obama administration has undertaken multiple efforts to tackle child exploitation, and the $50 million in stimulus funding amounted to a significant boost. On balance, we rate the administration's efforts a Promise Kept.
Federal Communications Commission, report and order on Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support Mechanism, Aug. 10, 2011
Justice Department, Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program main webpage, accessed Jan. 10, 2013
Justice Department, "Recovery Act Provides $50 million for Internet Crimes Against Children Grant Programs," March 26, 2009
Justice Department, "Department of Justice Releases First National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction,” Aug. 2, 2010
Justice Department, Defending Childhood Initiative main web page, accessed Jan. 10, 2013
Justice Department, Project Safe Childhood main web page, accessed Jan. 11, 2013
Justice Department, Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence main web page, accessed Jan. 10, 2013
Justice Department, "Attorney General Holder Hosts Summit Focused on Prevention, Deterrence and Interdiction of Child Sexual Exploitation," Oct. 14, 2011
ChildLaw Blog, "Justice Department Sides with Child Molesters and Pedophiles Again," Nov. 30, 2011
New York Times, "New Online Privacy Rules for Children," Dec. 19, 2012
Dallas Morning News, "Texas court case raises question of whether child-porn viewers should pay restitution to rape victim," Nov. 14, 2012
CNET, "Children's privacy law catches on to apps, social networks," Dec. 19, 2012
PolitiFact, "Obama Porn Lawyer Laid Bare," Feb. 6, 2009
Email interview with David Finkelhor, sociologist at the University of New Hampshire and director of the Crimes against Children Research Center, Jan. 9, 2013
Interview with Mary Graw Leary, Catholic University of America law professor, Jan. 10, 2013
More money for enforcement
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised he would protect children from exploitation and inappropriate content on TV and the Internet. He said he would give parents "the tools and information they need to control what their children see on television and the Internet in ways fully consistent with the First Amendment." He also vowed to toughen enforcement for Internet exploitation of children by supporting tough penalties, increasing resources for law enforcement, and promoting collaboration between law enforcement and the private sector to identify and prosecute people who abuse the Internet to try to exploit children.
President Obama fulfilled the enforcement part of his campaign pledge on Dec. 16, 2009, when he signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010 into law. The legislation provides funding for several government departments during the year 2010, including the Department of Justice. More specifically, it allocates $353.5 million for Adam Walsh Act activities, which include sex offender registration requirements and other sex offender and child exploitation prevention and enforcement programs. The amount represents an increase of $63.6 million above the 2009 level.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 was signed into law on July 27, 2006 by the former President George Bush. Named in memory of Adam Walsh, who was kidnapped from a Florida shopping mall and subsequently found murdered in 1981, the Act is primarily concerned with reforming the sex offender database system, increasing penalties for failing to register and upgrading publicly-accessible online directories, though it also contains several provisions that enhance the tools that law enforcement officials have available to combat Internet exploitation.
Obama has made progress on funding the enforcement programs, but we still need to see what the administration will do to give parents "the tools" for controlling what kids can see on the Internet and TV. So for now, we rate this one In the Works.
Committees on Appropriation,
Summary FY2010: Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations
, Accessed Jan. 4, 2010.
America's Most Wanted, About John Walsh , Accessed Jan. 4, 2010.
National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse, Practitioner's Guide to the Adam Walsh Act , Accessed Jan. 4, 2010.