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Sunday Talk: Grassley on Protecting Kids Online

Q: Why did the Senate Judiciary Committee bring Big Tech executives to testify before Congress?

A: When it comes to the safety of children on the internet, parents across our country want action, answers and accountability. Moms and dads across America are raising the next generation who are growing up as digital natives. People under age 25 can’t imagine a world without the internet, social media and smart phones. However, a crisis unfolding across digital platforms on the internet must be addressed. Too many precious lives have been lost and destroyed by online sexual exploitation and abuse. In four-plus hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the leaders of five social media companies – Discord, Meta, Snap, TikTok and X (previously known as Twitter) answered questions about their organization’s efforts to report illicit content and cooperate with law enforcement to keep young people safe from sexual exploitation on their platforms.

The giant social media companies have ignored for too long the harmful content of children being exploited and abused on their platforms while pumping the brakes on legislation to stop internet crimes against children. Meanwhile, child predators lurk anonymously online, using encrypted technology to target, trick and trap kids with devastating consequences. The production and distribution of child sex abuse material is an escalating crisis in American society with no end in sight as images circulate across platforms, housed in cloud storage for abusers to share and destroy innocent young lives. Within the last decade, the number of tips reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children jumped from 1,380 tips per day to 100,000 daily tips. In 2022, reports to the CyberTipline included more than 88 million files of images, video and other damaging files of exploited children. As a society, we must do more to protect vulnerable children and teenagers. Policymakers, parents, law enforcement and Big Tech must pull together to protect the well-being of America’s youngest generation.

Q: What are you doing to stop child exploitation and rein in Big Tech?

A: As a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’ve worked to keep prevention efforts against human trafficking and child exploitation on the front burner in Washington. For example, my bipartisan bill to renew and expand the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act was signed into law in 2023. It strengthens programs to prevent human trafficking, promote justice for survivors, provide services to victims and improve the federal government’s response to the crisis of exploitation in this country. With the Biden administration’s abysmal border policies, there’s been an explosive rise in human trafficking as cartels cash in by smuggling human beings across our southern border. Children are trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labor. I’ve worked across the aisle with Sen. Jon Ossoff to improve justice for young survivors of sex crimes and strengthen federal child trafficking prevention measures. Most recently, we introduced the Preventing Child Trafficking Act that calls upon the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to implement anti-trafficking recommendations proposed by the Government Accountability Office.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has passed six child protection bills that await floor action in the U.S. Senate, including four bipartisan bills I’ve co-sponsored: Project Safe Childhood Act would strengthen tools for prosecutors and law enforcement authorities to investigate and prosecute online child exploitation, using technology to go after predators and develop strategies to rescue children in harm’s way; EARN It Act would prompt the tech industry to take online child sexual exploitation seriously by removing blanket immunity for violations of laws related to online child sexual abuse material (CSAM);STOP CSCAM Act would empower victims to call upon tech companies to remove child sexual abuse material, among other measures; and, the Cooper Davis Act would help stop online sales of illicit pills that kill. I also support the REPORT Act that would strengthen reporting requirements to the CyberTipline and the SHIELD Act that would criminalize the transmission of nonconsensual sexual images.

It’s time to get these bipartisan bills to the president’s desk. In the meantime, I’ll continue beating the drum to the sound of freedom for children trafficked by smugglers and exploited by predators. I led a bipartisan Senate resolution supporting National Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Prevention Month during the period of Jan. 1 to Feb. 1, 2024. President Abraham Lincoln signed a historic joint congressional resolution on February 1, 1865, sending the 13th Amendment for ratification to the states. The amendment states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The enslavement and trafficking of children in the 21st century is a stain on our founding principles that we must work to erase. I’ll continue my advocacy to raise public awareness, ramp pressure up in Congress and keep Big Tech on a short leash so our society can make strides against these horrific crimes and pave a path of healing and hope for survivors.

If you have information about a child being sexually exploited online, report it here or by calling the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children CyberTipline, (800) 843-5678.

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