Online Child Pornography
Child pornography, images of children involved in sexual activities, is traded on the Internet around the clock. Child pornographers use the Internet's ease of distribution to sell their material to pedophiles (adults who are sexually attracted to children). In addition to purchasing child pornography, pedophiles also visit online chat rooms hoping to lure children into situations for sex. Luring or tricking a minor into sexual activity is prohibited. For example, chatting with a fifteen-year-old girl over the Internet, then suggesting a meeting is illegal conduct. Traveling to a minor's home to engage in sex after meeting by way of Internet chat rooms is also criminal activity that will be prosecuted.
The U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted an increasing number of people for Internet child pornography. The existing federal laws against child pornography are extensive and apply to all kinds of child pornography and the luring of minors (persons under the age of eighteen) online and offline. They prohibit the production, interstate transportation, receiving or distribution of visual images of a minor engaged in sexual conduct, and luring a minor into sexual encounters.
During a child pornography investigation, the FBI, the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Attorney General's Office have authority to gain access to subscriber information from an Internet service provider (ISP), such as America Online (AOL), MSN, or Hotmail. If an ISP becomes aware of violations, they must report them to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who then notifies federal law enforcement agencies.
The biggest challenge to law enforcement in child pornography cases is the anonymous nature of Internet communication. The offenses also occur at high speeds across the entire nation crossing many law enforcement jurisdictions. Generally seller and buyer are in different states or could be anywhere worldwide. As in other Internet criminal activities, the coordination between state, local, and federal law enforcement officials is essential.
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