Bicameral, bipartisan bill launched to fight back against growing online child exploitation crisis
Washington, December 10, 2019
A bicameral, bipartisan group of lawmakers are taking action this week following a disturbing New York Times investigative report on the growing prevalence of online child exploitation in communities across the nation. Today U.S. Representatives Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), Annie Kuster (D-NH), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) and Lucy McBath (D-GA) with U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced H.R. 5376, the Eliminate Network Distribution of Child Exploitation Act, or END Child Exploitation Act, to extend the period of time that technology companies are required to preserve information about child sexual abuse images they report to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). This legislative move would address an important policy flaw highlighted in the September New York Times report.
“It is the unfortunate truth that this crisis is local for every single Congressional district and state across the country,” said Rep. Gonzalez. “The number one concern I hear from law enforcement and non-profits, nationally and in Northeast Ohio, is that there are insufficient resources to adequately address the growing problem. This bill gives our law enforcement more time to work with data being gathered by technology companies to better protect our children and keep our communities safe.”
“Crimes that once occurred solely in the physical space are now dominating the virtual world. Technology companies that are a hub for youth social interactions should recognize the need to assist law enforcement in their information gathering efforts,” said Sen. Blackburn. “The END Child Exploitation Act brings anti-trafficking efforts into the 21st century so that perpetrators may be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“I’ve spent my career, both as Attorney General of Nevada and as a United States Senator, working to protect vulnerable children from exploitation and trafficking,” said Sen. Cortez Masto. “That’s why I’m proud to join Senator Blackburn in introducing this legislation, which will preserve crucial evidence in cases of online child exploitation for longer, giving law enforcement more time to go after criminals. We need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to prosecute predators and keep them from threatening our children.”
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our children,” said Rep. Kuster. “I am proud to help introduce this common sense, bipartisan legislation that will help law enforcement and technology companies respond to child sexual abuse images and protect our children.”
“I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the bipartisan END Child Exploitation Act so we can better protect children from sexual abuse,” said Rep. Reschenthaler. “In 2018, online content of children being sexually abused more than doubled from the previous year. Given this deeply troubling increase, it is critical we give law enforcement more time to identify and hold perpetrators of these heinous crimes accountable. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this bill across the finish line so we can end the online sexual exploitation of our nation’s children.”
“It’s our duty as lawmakers to do all we can to protect our children and give parents and families peace of mind. The report released earlier this year showed troubling evidence that we are not doing enough to protect them from risks online,” said Rep. McBath. “I’m glad to join my colleagues in the House and Senate on this bill and make more resources available to law enforcement to stop abuse and exploitation, hold perpetrators accountable, and protect families in Georgia and across the country.”
The New York Times investigative report released in September 2019 found technology companies have reported 45 million images and videos depicting abuse over the past year. Currently, these companies are required to retain information on these images for 90 days after reporting the material to NCMEC, however, this time is often not enough for habitually under-resourced law enforcement to conduct the necessary investigative process. The END Child Exploitation Act doubles this time frame to 180 days and ensures these companies are legally able to retain the material longer if needed to prevent the proliferation or spread of child exploitation material.
In recent months, Congressman Anthony Gonzalez launched a major push to shine a light on the issue of online child exploitation in Congress. On Tuesday morning, Congressman Gonzalez held a roundtable as co-chair of the Congressional Future Caucus and in conjunction with the Millennial Action Project to convene experts in Washington to discuss the role Congress can play in addressing the crisis. Additionally, Congressman Gonzalez sent a letter to the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees requesting hearings on online child exploitation and a letter to Congressional Appropriators requesting increased funding for Missing and Exploited Children Programs in fiscal year 2020.
Read the full bill text here.