New Legislative Act Will Protect Most Vulnerable Online

A child is bought or sold for sexual exploitation every two minutes in America. Yes, America. More and more, this abuse is happening online, where predators recruit minors into sex trafficking rings, distribute child sexual abuse material, and extort children into sharing personal explicit images. 

Just in 2023, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received a mind-boggling 36.2 million reports of child sexual exploitation online — a 23% increase from 2021.

NCMEC’s CyberTipline serves as the country’s centralized online child abuse reporting system — it does incredible work to track the crimes and then report them to law enforcement, which results in arrests of predators nationwide. However, tragically, many online acts of sexual abuse of children go unreported.

One significant reason: Criminal legislation requires electronic providers to report any material of child sex abuse on their online platforms and sites. These platforms, including Big Tech sites like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook — have no obligation to report contact involving the grooming or sex trafficking of children or crimes of enticement.

As a result, most online platforms choose not to report this repulsive material to law enforcement. Even when the content is reported, electronic service providers frequently omit information necessary to track down abusers and identify victims.

The gap in U.S. laws is leaving many children defenseless against some of the most vile crimes imaginable. However, thankfully, we are starting to see genuine change to address this pressing issue.

President Joe Biden signed into law the Revising Existing Procedures on Reporting via Technology (REPORT) Act this week — bipartisan legislation that would provide law enforcement and NCMEC the resources needed to crack down on the exploitation of children.

Critically, the legislation will require electronic service providers to report enticement and child trafficking instances, which means these platforms can no longer ignore the harmful content corrupting their sites. 

To guarantee compliance, the legislation raises the fine for first violations from $150,000 to $850,000, with subsequent violations ranging from $300,000 to $1 million.

We have additionally heard from law enforcement about the necessity to modernize laws around reporting sexual abuse online. For example, evidence of materials of child abuse can be submitted to law enforcement only through physical thumb drives, which makes it more difficult for NCMEC — which received over 100 million files of potential sexual abuse last year — to possibly lifesaving information in the hands of law enforcement. Simultaneously, children and their caretakers risk legal liability for the transfer of evidence of online sexual abuse they have experienced when submitting reports to the CyberTipline.

The REPORT Act addresses these limiting issues and allows organizations like NCMEC to submit evidence to law enforcement through secure cloud storage. This enables victims to report exploitation online to the relevant authorities. The legislation additionally increases the retention period for CyberTipline reports from 90 days to a year. This means law enforcement will have additional time to track down and then prosecute criminals.

With the numerous threats faced by children online, it’s our responsibility as a nation to make sure the most vulnerable among us are protected. With the bipartisan passage of the REPORT Act, we’re taking a significant step forward to making that happen.