By Kirsten Murphy, Silha Fellow
In an Oct. 23, 2002 speech on children's online safety, President Bush urged the Senate to join the House in passing a law that would make both virtual and actual images of child pornography illegal. Bush argued that prosecutors need both types of images to be criminalized in order to prosecute producers and distributors of child pornography because virtual child pornography is indistinguishable from images of real children.
The House passed the Child Obscenity and Pornography Prevention Act (COPPA) by an overwhelming majority, 413-8, on June 25, 2002. The bill, introduced by House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), was rushed through the House in an effort to replace legislation that was struck down by the Supreme Court on Apr. 16, 2002 on First Amendment grounds. (See "Supreme Court Strikes Down Virtual Child Pornography Law," Silha Bulletin, Spring 2002.)
In Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234 (2002), a 6-3 decision held that the "Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996" (CPPA) violated the First Amendment because it covered both protected and unprotected speech. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, opined that although a law criminalizing real images of child pornography may be constitutional, a ban of virtual images of minors engaged in sexually explicit activity unlawfully prohibits speech that is not criminal and creates no victims. The CPPA criminalized any image that "appears to be" a minor. The COPPA is written more narrowly, in an effort to create a law that will pass Supreme Court review. The COPPA makes illegal any pornographic image that is "virtually indistinguishable from that of a minor."
President Bush applauded the efforts of the House in passing COPPA. "The House passed a bill which makes it illegal for child pornographers to disseminate obscene, computer-generated images of children. It's an important piece of legislation," Bush said during his speech. He pressured the Senate to join the house in fighting child pornography on the Internet: "The Senate needs to act soon. The Senate needs to get moving and join the House in providing our prosecutors with the tools necessary to help shut down this obscenity, these crimes against children."
The Senate is considering two bills similar to the COPPA, one introduced by Senator Carnahan (D-Mo.) and another by Senators Leahy (D-Vt.) and Hatch (R-Utah). However, neither bill has yet been marked up, and appropriations legislation is expected to monopolize the legislators' time after the Senate's recess.
In addition to pushing for legislation to make virtual child pornography illegal, Bush called for an increase in federal funding for the Internet Crimes Against Children task forces from $6.5 million to $12.5 million dollars for the 2003 fiscal year. The President's speech is available online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/10/20021023-8.html.