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Congress takes up online threats to children

Even with an economic crisis to deal with, Congress is finding time to address online threats to children like child pornography and prescription drugs.

Amid an economic crisis, Congress found some time this week to address online threats to children.

The Protect Our Children Act, introduced by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., made it through the Senate on Thursday. Separate bills authored by Sens. John McCain and Hillary Clinton were folded into the legislation, which authorizes more than $320 million for the Justice Department over the next five years for, among other things, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The bill would affect how Internet companies report online child pornography to authorities, and it approves funds for law enforcement to focus on online child exploitation.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, a bill that would would ban the sale or distribution of prescription drugs over the Internet without a valid prescription. Matching legislation passed in the Senate in April, but the House sent its version back to the Senate with amendments on Thursday.

Under the proposed law, online pharmacies would have to comply with pharmacy licensing laws in each state in which they do business and register with the relevant state attorneys general. Some congressmen questioned the impact of the bill, given that so many online pharmacies that distribute drugs without prescriptions are based outside the U.S.

The bill is named after Ryan Haight, an 18-year-old who died from an accidental overdose of Vicodin, Valium, and a trace of morphine, which he acquired with prescriptions over the Internet.

Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse investigated online pharmacies selling prescription-free drugs this year and found 40 percent of the sites found indicated that the drugs would be shipped from outside the U.S., according to Susan Foster, CASA's vice president and director of policy research and analysis. Another 36 percent did not indicate a location.

Christine Jones, general counsel for Internet domain registrar Go Daddy, said the bill would still be effective.

"It doesn't matter where the Web site operator is," Jones said. "If I can't find their name on the list of approved sellers, that makes that Web site illegal."