Thursday, February 19, 2009

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Attorney General Abbott, Senator Cornyn, Congressman Smith Join Forces To Protect Texas Children From Predators

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Congressman Lamar Smith today joined forces to advance state and federal legislative efforts that will help protect young Texans from child predators.

“With sexual predators increasingly using new technology to prey upon children, it is critical that law enforcement stay ahead of the criminals,” said Attorney General Abbott. “Innovative legislative responses to high tech crimes are vital to the ongoing success of our crackdown on cyber predators and online child pornographers. Thanks to creative legislative initiatives at both the state and federal levels, law enforcement will have the legal tools we need to help protect Texas children.”

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Citing recent developments in the Texas Legislature, Attorney General Abbott expressed his support for legislation by state Sen. Florence Shapiro and Rep. Aaron Peña that would update state sex offender registration laws. If enacted, Senate Bill 689 and House Bill 1239, would upgrade state sex offender registration laws to reflect modern technological innovations and communications platforms.

Specifically, the bills would require that convicted sex offenders provide their e-mail addresses, mobile telephone numbers, social networking aliases and other electronic identification information to the Department of Public Safety’s sex offender registry. In October 2008, Attorney General Abbott recommended that the Legislature act to increase law enforcement’s access to sex offender’s electronic identities. The Shapiro-Peña legislation reflects both legislators’ efforts to protect children by enacting the Attorney General’s recommendations.

At the federal level, Sen. Cornyn, a former Texas Attorney General, sponsored the Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth (SAFETY) Act of 2009 in the U.S. Senate. Congressman Smith, a former Texas legislator, sponsored companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I’m proud to join my colleague Lamar Smith from the House of Representatives in announcing our legislation, the Internet SAFETY Act, to combat Internet predators and create a safer environment for Texas children. It is our hope that we can garner the support of all our colleagues and pass this bill to strengthen penalties for child sex offenders and Internet predators,” Sen. Cornyn said. “Our legislation complements the hard work of Attorney General Abbott, who has been relentless in his efforts to crack down on violence against children. He is realistic about the dangers that exist on the Internet and makes every attempt to keep Texas families informed and equipped with the resources to protect their children.”

Rep. Smith added: “Of the nearly 600,000 images of graphic child pornography found online and reported to law enforcement officials, only 2,100 of these children have been identified and rescued. Federal, state and local law enforcement officials have reached a digital dead end in their battle against the online sexual exploitation of children. Investigators need the assistance of Internet Service Providers to identify users and distributors of online child pornography. The Internet SAFETY Act requires ISPs to retain subscriber records, similar to records retained by telephone companies, to aid law enforcement officials in their fight against child pornography.”

If enacted, the Internet SAFETY Act would:
• Create a new federal offense for the financial facilitation of child pornography;
• Create a new federal offense for facilitation of child pornography or child exploitation by an Internet content hosting provider or e-mail service provider;
• Require the U.S. Attorney General to promulgate regulations regarding the record retention of subscribers’ Internet Protocol addresses or user information by Internet Service Providers;
• Increase penalties for sexual exploitation of children;
• Increase penalties for activities relating to material involving the sexual exploitation of children, and those constituting child pornography; and,
• Provide $30 million a year over five years for the Innocent Images National Initiative.

Since its establishment in 2003, the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) Cyber Crimes Unit has arrested more than 100 sexual predators for using the Internet to prey upon children. Together, the Cyber Crimes and Fugitive Units have arrested 28 convicted sex offenders who accessed MySpace in violation of their parole conditions. Four additional subjects were arrested for using MySpace to meet and sexually proposition users whose online profiles indicated they were between the ages of 12 to 14 years old. In all four of those cases, the profile actually belonged to an undercover Cyber Crimes Unit investigator.

Since taking office, Attorney General Abbott has earned a national reputation for aggressively arresting and prosecuting online child predators. The Fugitive Unit and the Cyber Crimes Unit, which protects children from online sexual exploitation, have combined to arrest more than 900 sex offenders since 2003. Cyber Crimes Unit investigators also have traveled to schools and communities statewide to offer educational cyber safety programs.