Florida Cybercrimes Against Children Act Passes State Legislature

Attorney General lauds passage of bill which toughens penalties against Internet predators.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum praised both the State House and Senate for passing the CyberCrimes Against Children Act of 2007 (SB 1004), a measure that toughens penalties for those who use the Internet to sexually prey on children.

The new legislation increases penalties for the possession or distribution of child pornography online and creates a new, separate penalty against Internet predators who communicate with a child online and then travel to meet that child for the specific purpose of further sexually abusing him or her.

"I applaud the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives for unanimously passing this legislation, demonstrating their dedication to protecting our children from these terrible crimes," said McCollum. "This legislation will allow law enforcement to put these individuals where they belong -- behind bars and away from our children. My sincere appreciation goes to Senate President Ken Pruitt and Speaker of the House Marco Rubio for their leadership and their commitment to this important issue."

The legislation was sponsored by Senator Nancy Argenziano and Representative David Rivera. "As elected officials, our reason for being here is to protect our citizens, especially our children. This legislation puts a huge stop sign at the Florida line for those who would prey upon our children," said Argenziano.

House sponsor Representative David Rivera added, "Child pornography is not a victimless crime. With the passage of this bill, those who sexually abuse children and put those images on the Internet will be punished and punished severely."

McCollum was joined by members of his Child Predator CyberCrime Unit. The six-member team works to protect children from computer-facilitated sexual exploitation by working cooperatively with statewide law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to provide resources and expertise.

"The unit now, and even more so with this new legislation, is a valuable asset to all members of law enforcement and the citizens of Florida," said McCollum. "The next step in this fight against online child predators is the critical expansion of the Child Predator CyberCrime Unit statewide."

In addition to increasing the penalties for the possession and distribution of child pornography and for those who travel to meet children, the legislation also increases penalties for offenders who misrepresent their age to seduce a child over the Internet. This behavior -- known as "grooming" -- is intended to make a child believe the offender is closer in age to the child, therefore encouraging the child to feel more comfortable conversing with the offender. The new legislation gives the Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution jurisdiction to prosecute child pornography and Internet child sexual abuse cases.

Currently, more than 77 million children regularly use the Internet and statistics on child pornography are alarming. Nationally, one in seven children between the ages of ten and 17 has been solicited online by a sexual predator. The CyberCrimes Against Children Act will require all registered sex offender to register their e-mail addresses and chat room screen names with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. With this information, online social networks, including the popular Web site MySpace, will be able to coordinate with Florida authorities to ensure that the registered offenders are not able to join or use these online social networks.

The CyberCrimes Against Children Act now heads to Governor Charlie Crist for his consideration.