Congress recently passed S.1738, the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008 (or, as it was previously known, The Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2007).

If signed in to the law, the act would establish a new Special Counsel for Child Expolitation Prevention and Interdiction in the office of the Deputy Attorney General.

In addition, it directs the Attorney General to undertake a number of responsiblities, including setting forth a comprehensive long range budgeting and planning process designed to improve the resources available within the DOJ to combat child exploitation crimes.

The bill also establishes a National Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force directed to increase the investigative capabilities of state and local law enfocement, increase the number of Internet crimes against children offenses to be investigated, and developing and implementing awareness and prevention programs.

The bill authorizes the creation of a National Internet Crimes Against Children Data System. This system would create a secure on-line communication system that the ICAC task force would use to coordinate with federal, state, and local law enfocement. The system would also provide secure data storage and a conflict resolution system designed to increase cooridnation between agencies.

In addition to providing more resources to combat Internet Crimes against children, the act makes several substantive changes to the law. First, it expands the federal criminal code to provide greater jurisdiction over child expolitation crimes including the selling or buying of children, material containing child pornography, and obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children. The act also expands the crime of "child sexual expolitation" to inclue transmitting live images of child abuse, as well as expanding the definition of "visual depiction" to encompass any data capable of conversion into a visual image and transmitted by any means.

In an interesting expansion of prior law, the act specifically targets images altered to resemble child pronography, thus criminalizing the depiction of an identifiable minor child in child pornography, even where the child did not actually engage in the depicted acts.

The act provides a reporting requirement that requires electronic communication or remote computing services that obtain actual knowledge of apparent child pornography to make a report to the the CyberTipline of NCMEC.

At the same time, the Act limits the liability of electronic communication service providers, remote computing services, or domain name registars for failing to comply with the reporting requirement unless such failure was intentional, reckless, or involves other misconduct. As a part of this limitation, providers must restrict the number of employees that may access any child pornography it discovers, and ensure that any pornography is permanently destroyed upon request.