Bill aims to protect wired children

New legislation in the House would stiffen existing penalties for luring a child into sexual activity or sending minors obscene material.

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Using the Net to lure a child into sexual activity or to send minors obscene material could become federal crimes under legislation introduced by Republican House members.

The Child Protection and Sexual Predator Punishment Act also stiffens the existing penalties for enticing minors on and off the Net as well as for repeat sex offenders and serial rapists.

Introduced by Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Florida) and 16 cosponsors, the bill makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to use any interstate or foreign communication device to contact a minor for the "purposes of engaging in any sexual activity."

The FBI and child advocacy groups have created special task forces to battle what they see as the threats to children who use the Internet. As more children log on with public schools and libraries becoming wired and more homes buying sub-$1,000 PCs, the Internet becomes more attractive to sexual predators, law enforcement agencies have claimed. On the other hand, prior attempts to pass legislation to protect children from indecent material online--such as the Communications Decency Act--have been heavily scrutinized for First Amendment violations.

The new legislation also would make it illegal to "knowingly transfer obscene matter" to minors over the Net, phone, mail, or any other means.

Moreover, the existing penalty for enticing or coercing minors to engage in prostitution or in criminal sexual activity would be raised from 10 years to 15.

The bill also would create an FBI Child Abduction and Serial Murder Investigative Resources Center to develop new techniques and technologies for finding missing children and solving murders.