In an effort to curtail the spread of child pornography over the Internet, a group of government, computer industry and advocacy group leaders joined Monday to announce a high-tech tip line parents can use to report those who might be preying on their kids.
The CyberTipline, which will be run by the nonprofit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, will allow parents to report suspicious Internet activity by filling out an online form or by calling a toll-free number.
The center will process and forward all tips to law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the U.S. Customs Service.
The CyberTipline is the newest of many weapons law enforcement agencies are wielding against lawbreakers on the Internet, said FBI Director Louis Freeh, who is scheduled to testify today to a Senate appropriations subcommittee on development of a $10 million FBI program aimed at combating Internet users who exploit children.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., whose subcommittee appropriated half of the tip line’s $600,000 budget, said the hot line would serve as a “lifeguard to go to when parents see a shark in the water.”
The tip line will allow the public to shine a light on pedophiles who have moved from shadowy parks and mall corners to on-line chat rooms, where they have anonymity and cannot be seen, said Shay Bilchik, administrator of the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, He said the tip line would help protect the nearly 10 million American children who log on the Internet during any given day. “We’re determined that there will be no free rides for child victimizers on the information superhighway,” Bilchik said.
Computer industry leaders from America Online, Sun Microsystems and others are donating the technology to run the hot line, and private industry is footing half the bill.
Several European countries have had similar tip lines for more than a year. The hot line in England said it received 781 reports during 1997, and was able to remove 2,000 pornographic images of children from the Internet. Nearly two-thirds of their reported items originated in the United States.
Even though some child pornography has been removed, critics say hot lines elsewhere in the worldfail.
“If you’re going to do something at the national level it is futile, because the Internet is a global medium,” said Yaman Akdeniz, director of CyberRights and Cyber-Liberties, a nonprofit civil liberties organization in England. “They need some sort of international coordination.”
Ernie Allen, president of the NCMEC, said the center would work closely with law enforcement agencies around the world to protect American kids.