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Tip line to protect children online

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children will institute a Net "hot line" where surfers can report online crimes against children.

In spite of criticism that the White House-sponsored summit on keeping children safe online was mere public relations, one tangible result is a sense of urgency about dealing with the issue.

To that end, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children announced a "cybertip line" for reporting online crimes against children, to be instituted within the next 90 days. Surfers will be able to use the "hot line" to report illegal online activities via the organization's Web site.

People should use the service to report crimes such as the enticement of children for sex acts, child pornography, child sex tourism, or the passing of tips about these activities, said Center president and chief executive Ernie Allen at this week's Internet Online Summit: Focus on Children, held in Washington. For now, cyber-tipsters can use a toll-free phone number: (800) 843-5678.

"It's kind of a logical extension of what we do to provide a kind of 911 for the Internet," Allen said.

Those reports will be passed on to appropriate local, state, national, and even international law enforcement authorities. Last year, the Center took 1.3 million calls. Currently it averages about 700 calls per day, resulting in thousands of investigations and enforcement acts, Allen said.

Much of this week's summit focused on how and whether to screen some Internet content from kids. But Allen's announcement capped presentations from law enforcement officers who reminded the audience of press and industry representatives that some online activities aren't just objectionable, but also are criminal. They said their agencies were stepping up enforcement of laws against child pornography and sexually exploiting or enticing children online, and asked for help and support in their efforts.

The right to free speech for adults is important, said Raymond Kendall, secretary general of Interpol. "However, we must remember that under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the rights of the child must take precedence over all other considerations."