Thursday, June 29, 2006


U.S. Prosperity Flourishing, Barton Tells Commerce Secretary

‘We are the Envy of the World’

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, made the following statement today during the full committee hearing entitled, “Growth, Opportunity, Competition – America Goes to Work:”

“As head of the Department of Commerce, Secretary Gutierrez is responsible for promoting trade and industry for U.S. companies, at home and abroad. The department has responsibility for a diverse portfolio of federal programs including those relating to telecommunications, technology, economic statistics, trade promotion, weather, and oceanographic services.

“One of the priorities of the Bush Administration and of this committee is creating policies that allow economic growth and job creation to flourish. American innovation, technology, and standard of living are the reasons we are the envy of the entire world. It is an impressive cycle that attracts creative genius and rewards innovative progress. It is a strong foundation that others around the world have been trying to replicate for a number of years.

“I believe the administration and Congress have done a good job to maintain that foundation when faced with some of the extraordinary challenges of the last seven or eight years. In the wake of the technology market collapse and the onset of recession in 2000, we faced a significant test to restore economic growth and prosperity. That test became even more difficult with the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and the resulting economic shock that sent business investment into steep decline.

“The administration and Congress have worked together to helped prevent the economic downturn from being too prolonged and destructive to Americans’ standard of living. We have done a number of proactive policies that have spurred investment through tax cuts. Those policies have brought investment back to the market to create job growth and increase overall economic output that has created one of the strongest periods of economic activity we have experienced in our history.

“For example, since 2001, productivity has grown annually at 3.5 percent and outpaced the previous five year annual rate of 2.3 percent. This is the fastest rate of productive growth in four decades. As the key driver to economic growth, it is not surprising that productivity is translating into strong GDP growth. For the first quarter of this year, gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of, believe it or not, 5.6 percent. Unemployment has fallen from its peak in July 2003 at 6.3 percent to 4.7 percent last month. This is a historical low, and at a point many economists consider full employment. When compared to other industrialized countries—many of which have double-digit unemployment—there is no doubt that we are succeeding in fostering an environment conducive to creating jobs.

“Given all these remarkable statistics, we must remain committed to promoting policies that increase productivity and continue to provide real growth for all Americans. The Secretary of Commerce has reported that American employment rates are substantially higher than our Western European trading partners. The May unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, however, is significantly below the 30-year average of 6.4 percent and has fallen for all races, ages, and levels of education.

“During the committee’s last hearing two years ago with Secretary Gutierrez’s predecessor, Secretary Evans, we discussed a number of ways to promote growth and employment in U.S. industry, particularly with regard to the manufacturing sector. Those issues, at the time, were to enact a national energy policy, which we did, to promote reliable delivery of energy and diminish our reliance on foreign sources of oil and natural gas. On that second point, we have not done that. We wanted to enact tort reform to improve the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers, and we wanted to control health care costs which make up a disproportionate share of manufacturers’ costs and increasingly affect all businesses.

“This committee is working hard to achieve these goals and I am proud to say we took a good step toward accomplishing the first one when we enacted the Energy Policy Act on a bipartisan basis last summer. However, as the hurricanes last fall demonstrated, more needs to be done to increase our refinery capacity to further reduce our dependence on foreign oil. As the increase in gasoline prices remains higher than anyone likes, on either side of the aisle, it is essential we continue to address all aspects of energy policy to provide viable alternatives for long-term sustainable energy independence. We are continuing to pursue these goals on a bipartisan basis, and I’m sure as the year progresses we will have more success on this front.

“Mr. Secretary, we are very glad to have you here. Personally, I appreciate you appearing before us and I look forward to hearing your testimony."

Teens Online Are ‘Very Vulnerable’ To Sexual Abuse, Committee Told

Detective: ‘Parents are scared to death out there’

WASHINGTON – Uninformed parents, cocky teenagers and tech-savvy predators make child pornography and exploitation possible on the Internet, a Connecticut police officer told Congress Wednesday.

“I have seen technology change in a direction that both benefits and assists online predators in carrying out their criminal activity,” Detective Frank Dannahey warned in a hearing of House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. “With the majority of America’s teens online, the pool of potential online victims is vast.”

After seven Middletown, Conn., girls aged 12 to 16 were sexually assaulted in February by older men they met on, Dannahey posed online as a 19-year-old boy and in just two weeks gleaned personal information about more than 100 “friends.”

“It became immediately obvious that personal information was readily available and easily volunteered,” he said. “I was able to find out information such as where a teen lived, worked, their full name and date of birth, where they went to school, as well as home and cellular phone numbers.

“It was not uncommon to see photos of teens involved in underage drinking, drug use and risky behavior,” he added. “I found that teens are very trusting of people they meet online and are very willing to share their personal thoughts and information with virtual strangers. … Teens are very vulnerable online.”

Dannahey cited two major factors making the Internet so dangerous to children. The first was a lack of knowledge among parents about new technology. “The teen’s parents were totally unaware of what their teens were doing online,” he said, suggesting parents have their children walk them through what they do on the Internet. “Parents are scared to death out there, especially the ones that aren’t that Internet-savvy.”

Another problem is a naiveté among teens that they won’t fall victim to predators, even as their peers do.

“Why is there just no awareness of the danger?” asked U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

“They definitely have that ‘not-me’ feeling,” Dannahey observed. He said it was the same reaction teens have to the loss of a peer in a drunk-driving crash -- the parties stop and awareness is heightened, but after a few months old habits return. “They would acknowledge that ‘bad things happen,’ but they also say that ‘bad things don’t happen to me.’”

“I can’t imagine any parent out in the audience who would just give your 16-year-old a set of car keys and say, ‘Go for it,’” he said. “There’s a lot of preparation for that and this has to be under the same terms.”

Dannahey said education programs and public service announcements are the best way to combat online child predators. He suggested parents ban Webcams altogether and also expressed concern about Web-enabled cellular phones capable of recording pictures and videos.

“There have been some horrific cases where teens are generating their own pornography,” he said, noting that such images are treated like gold among predators.

Also testifying were representatives of social networking sites, and the popular – which attracts 250,000 new users every day and currently has 85 million registered users, more than 20 percent of whom are under 18. Lawmakers commended their recent efforts to thwart online child predators, but suggested that far more must be done, such as improved age-verification methods.

“We have all read the chilling news stories about a young teen meeting someone on one of these social networking sites and then being sexually molested or exploited in some way by one of these predators,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., chairman of the subcommittee. “There has got to be a better answer to stopping this scenario than – don’t let your children use the Internet. I want to find that solution.”

“When our staffs were given a tour of the FBI’s ‘Innocent Images’ control center for Internet child abuse crimes, an agent went online posing as a 13-year-old girl that liked soccer,” said U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., the subcommittee’s ranking member. “No other information was provided. This fictitious 13-year-old drew six responses from men seeking inappropriate conversation within the 15 minutes that the staff observed the exercise.

“Every day we wait for companies to change, millions of children are left vulnerable,” Stupak added. “Our patience is wearing thin. If we do not start seeing real change with real results, Congress will need to act swiftly to address this issue.”

Social networking sites are committed to helping law enforcement, executives testified, but are struggling to adopt effective age-verification software or practices. Each company had different data retention policies and expressed a willingness to hold information for longer if warranted. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., suggested the Web sites cross-reference users with sex-offender registries to identify child predators.

The Federal Trade Commission revealed that they were currently investigating social networking sites to determine whether they are in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which restricts the collection, use or disclosure of personally-identifiable information about children under 13 on the Internet.

Full committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, reiterated his intent to pursue comprehensive anti-child pornography legislation.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Investigation Prods Internet Companies To Help Fight Online Child Pornography

Chairman Barton Says Legislation is Likely

WASHINGTON – A congressional investigation into online child pornography and exploitation has prompted Google to sever some business ties and prodded Comcast to dramatically increase how long it retains data that could prove crucial to prosecuting predators.

On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations’ fourth hearing focused on whether or not major Internet service and content providers are doing enough to protect children online and to help put child predators behind bars.

After committee staff alerted the world’s largest search engine that it was actively selling advertising to Web sites that promote online child pornography, Google recently moved to “blacklist” those and other business partners. Nicole Wong, Google’s associate general counsel and chief privacy officer, called the ads an oversight.

And Comcast revealed that, effective Sept. 1, it will extend from a month to six months the period that it retains Internet addresses. Earlier this year the subcommittee’s investigation revealed that Comcast couldn’t comply with a law enforcement request for an address that was only three days old.

The hearing’s tone was set by Chris Hansen, the Dateline NBC reporter who has led the program’s two-year “To Catch a Predator” series using online decoys to expose middle-aged men seeking to have sexual relations with teenagers.

“Within minutes sometimes, men were trying to start up inappropriate and often obscene conversations,” he said. “There was graphic language, pornographic material and a grooming process all geared at setting up a sexual liaison with a minor.”

Hansen said that NBC’s research has shown that as many as one in three children online have been solicited for sexual acts and that the chat rooms frequented by predators tended to be small, regional Web sites. The five Dateline investigations have identified 130 men, 98 of whom are facing criminal charges.

“We have a long way to go in making the Internet a safe place for our children,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., chairman of the subcommittee. “Let’s make it as difficult as possible for these child predators and pedophiles to trade images, set up illegal Web sites and find children on the Internet. Let’s do all we can to disrupt and end this network of criminals on the Internet.”

It was data retention that emerged as the issue of most concern to the committee. With no statutory requirement in place, companies testified that they retain data from as little as Comcast's 31 days to as many as EarthLink’s seven years. Executives expressed concerns about cost and consumer privacy when asked about the prospect of a mandatory nationwide data retention requirement.

“Currently, there is no federal law and no industry standard. This is seriously hindering investigations,” said U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. “If investigators can't get the information they need to connect an IP address to a person then too often the case hits a dead end. The perpetrator is not going to be caught, and the child victim is not rescued from a childhood of unfathomable sexual abuse. This is a terrible problem and we need to fix it and fix it now.”

Some companies also suggested that the National Center on Missing and Exploited Children, a critical ally of the government in pursuing child predators, be given subpoena authority for data such as IP addresses.

Some lawmakers wondered why the United States hasn’t achieved the same success as the United Kingdom’s Internet Watch Foundation, a partnership formed in 1996 between the government, police and private industry. As a result of aggressive Internet monitoring and reporting tactics, today less than one percent of child pornography content is hosted in the United Kingdom, down from 18 percent in 1997. The same study says that the United States hosts 40 percent of the world’s online child pornography content.

Full committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, suggested the panel would soon pursue comprehensive legislation to crack down on Internet child predators.

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