FAQ on Child Pornography on the Internet


This FAQ sheet answers typical questions regarding federal laws on child pornography and the internet. Remember, federal laws can change. Also, laws can differ from state to state. If you have specific legal questions about child pornography and the internet, consult with a lawyer.

Does federal law prohibit child pornography found on the internet?

Yes. Title 18 United States Code, Sections 2251, 2251A, 2252, 2252A, and 2260 criminalize acts of knowingly producing (or aiding in the production of), advertising or soliciting for, possessing, selling, receiving, reproducing, exchanging, sending or transmitting (by mail or via computer) child pornography. For example, these laws prohibit knowingly possessing a child pornography image stored on a computer hard drive or disk. Additionally, these laws prohibit knowingly transmitting and receiving child pornography via the internet or electronic mail.

Computer technology allows pornographers to create so-called "virtual" images of children. In fact, the children in these images do not exist. Are these images illegal?

The federal Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 included an attempt by Congress to ban "virtual" child pornography, so that visual depictions of what "appears to be" minors engaging in sexual conduct would be criminalized, even if it could not be proven that the depictions were of actual children. However, in April 2002 the United States Supreme Court, in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 122 S.Ct. 1389, struck down this prohibition. The Court found that a ban on virtual child pornography abridged freedom of speech and was overbroad and unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Congress, together with the U.S. Department of Justice, has been working to craft new federal legislation that would overcome this Supreme Court decision by adding new language to the law so that virtual images indistinguishable (or which appear virtually indistinguishable) from images of actual minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct would be banned. If this legislation is enacted, another series of constitutional challenges is likely.

What should I do if I come across a website that exhibits child pornography?

ACPO has a report page on http://antichildporn.org/reportcp.htm, where people can report what they think is child porn. We realize that Law Enforcement will then have to do several things with that report before being able to act on it. Some of those things include doing a ÎWhoisâ, ÎDNSâ, and ÎTraceRouteâ, to determine the location of the server hosting the child porn. ACPO has written a UNIX script that allows a person to do in several minutes what would normally take hours to do manually. Law Enforcement can login to NRB, and access the report, and all the information they need to locate the offending server. The public can use the forms provided for them, to report CP, and there is an option to ÎAdd Infoâ, where you can make comments, or add additional information about the site.

What should I do if I accidentally download child pornography or receive unsolicited child pornography via email?

The law requires you to destroy any child pornography in your possession and to contact law enforcement officials. If you do not, you can be prosecuted for possessing or receiving child pornography.

Although many people who trade child pornography are clandestine, some of it is out in the open or thinly veiled. If you come across it, you definitely should file a report, but you should not download, save or print any images. Don't forward images to anyone, including law enforcement. The mere possession or transmission of this type of material is against the law, and even if your motives are honorable, you could be in legal jeopardy if you store it or pass it along.

Are Internet Service Providers (ISPs) liable under federal law for websites that depict child pornography on their servers?

The Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998 (Sexual Predators Act) requires that an ISP notify a designated law enforcement agency after learning that a website containing child pornography exists on its server. If the ISP willfully fails to report the website, the ISP can be fined. Congress, however, has stated that the Sexual Predators Act does not require ISPs to actively monitor websites for violations of federal child pornography laws.

According to 47 USCS €230, ISPs are not legally liable for material found on their sites. Law enforcement agencies do not believe that ISPs can control every website and chatroom that exists on their servers. Generally, ISPs cooperate with law enforcement agencies and, upon notification, remove sites that include child pornography. ISPs are required to inform new users that software exists that can filter out and prevent access to objectionable material.

I monitor the web for child pornography. Can I be arrested for this?

Regardless of your motivations, the police and the FBI can arrest you if you download child pornography from the internet and store it on a disk or a computer. Also, you are breaking the law if you receive or send child pornography. Juries have convicted several defendants who claimed to be acting as reporters and researchers when they downloaded and distributed child pornography. Also, if you pose as a pedophile in an internet chatroom, your conversations could be used as evidence against you if you are found in possession of child pornography. Moreover, pretending to be a pedophile in an internet chatroom could disrupt a legitimate police "sting" operation. If you wish to monitor the internet and chatrooms for child pornography, be careful to keep an entirely passive role and report what you see to the police, FBI or ISP.

How can young computer users avoid encountering sex offenders on the Internet?

Unfortunately, completely avoiding an encounter with sex offenders on the Internet is almost impossible, but by following these 'Net' rules, children can greatly increase their online safety:


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