Those caught using the Net to sexually solicit minors or knowingly send "obscene" material to a person under 16 could face stiffer criminal penalties, under a bill Congress sent to the White House today.
Violators could get up to five and ten years in prison, respectively, for the offenses.
The bill also sticks Net access providers with new liabilities for failing to report child pornography once they are made aware of the illegal material. ISPs could be fined up to $50,000 the first time they fail to report the activity, and up to $100,000 for each subsequent time they don't contact law enforcement authorities.
The penalty seems to fall in line with the so-called Good Samaritan provision in the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which states that ISPs will not be held responsible for content published on their services by third parties if ISPs make "good faith" efforts to remove illegal material when notified.
The House voted 400 to 0 today in final passage of the Child Protection and Sexual Predator Punishment Act, which the Senate passed on Friday.
"By prohibiting [the] possession of even one item or image containing child pornography, we are stating in no uncertain terms that we have `zero tolerance' for the sexual exploitation of children," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said on the floor Friday. "And by requiring electronic communication service providers to report the commission of child pornography offenses to authorities, we mandate accountability and responsibility on the Internet."
In addition, the laws aim to combat the online trading of contact information for the purpose of sexually soliciting minors. Those caught selling or transmitting names, addresses, telephone numbers, social security numbers, or email addresses of people under 16 could get up to five years in prison and fines.
Federal prisoners also won't be able to use the Net without supervision, under the legislation passed today.