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Legislation that aims to provide prosecutors with the tools they need to win convictions against child pornographers passed the House of Representatives as an amendment to the Child Abduction Prevention Act of 2003 (H.R. 1104) Thursday afternoon by a 406-15 vote.
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R.-Tex.), hopes to address last year's Supreme Court decision in Ashcroft v. the Free Speech Coalition that struck down a 1996 law written to combat computer-generated pornography. The Court rejected a Congressional ban on "morphed" or "virtual" child pornography on free speech grounds.
The decision was based on the justices' opinion that the law was too broadly written and might possibly apply to films that use adults to portray child sex. Smith's amendment bans any digital image, computer image or computer-generated image that depicts child pornography.
"The Internet has proved a useful tool for pedophiles as they distribute child pornography, engage in sexually explicit conversations with children, and hunt for victims in chat rooms," said Smith. "These predators will be a mere click away from a lengthy prison sentence if my amendment becomes law."
Smith's amendment also includes a prohibition on any offer to sell or buy "real" child pornography, a prohibition on obscenity involving pre-pubescent children and minors and a prohibition on showing pornography to children and on exploiting a child.
Currently there is no companion legislation in the Senate, but in February the chamber passed a child pornography bill also designed to overcome the Supreme Court objections.
Sponsored by Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.), the Senate bill hopes to avoid the court objections by not defining computer-generated images as obscene and, instead, prohibits the pandering or solicitation of anything represented to be obscene child pornography.
The bill, which passed on an 84-0 vote, requires the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person charged with producing or distributing child pornography intended others to believe the product was obscene child pornography, which is not protected by the First Amendment. Persons accused under the new law would have to prove that real children were not used in the production of the material.
The bill also creates a new crime for the use of child pornography by pedophiles to entice minors to engage in sexual activity.