On October 10, 2008, the President signed into law the “Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act.” The stated aim of the law is to promote a safe Internet for children and to enhance child pornography enforcement. Among the provisions of the law, the Act mandates the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to carry out a public awareness campaign to promote the safe use of the Internet by children. The law also establishes a working group to examine online safety for children. Additionally, the law requires certain schools to certify that their Internet safety policies educate minors about appropriate online behavior. Set forth below are the key provisions of the Act.

I. Promoting a Safe Internet for Children

a. Carrying out a Public Awareness Campaign 

The Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act mandates the FTC to carry out a public awareness campaign to educate the public about methods to promote the safe use of the Internet by children. The FTC is directed to use existing governmental resources as well as resources of nonprofits, private technology and financial companies, and Internet service providers to carry out the public awareness campaign. This campaign includes identifying and promoting best practices for Internet safety, establishing and carrying out a national outreach and education campaign pertaining to Internet safety, promoting up-to-date knowledge of current issues, and facilitating access to Internet safety education and public awareness efforts by state and local governments, schools, police departments, and nonprofits.

b. Establishing an Online Safety and Technology Working Group

The new law requires the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to establish an Online Safety and Technology working group. This group will include representatives of the business community, public interest groups, and other appropriate groups and Federal agencies. The working group is required to evaluate the status of industry efforts to promote online safety through educational efforts, parental control technology, filtering software, labeling, and other technologies. The group will also examine the status of industry efforts to promote online safety among providers of electronic communications services and remote computing services. The law further calls on the group to evaluate the practices of electronic communications service providers and remote computing service providers pertaining to record retention of crimes against children. Furthermore, the law calls for an evaluation of the development of technologies to assist parents protect children from inappropriate material online.

c. Promoting Online Safety in Schools

In the context of promoting online safety in schools, the law requires that as part of its Internet safety policy, a school, school board, local educational agency, or other authority must certify that the school educates minors about appropriate online behaviors; such as interacting with others on social networking websites and in chat rooms, and cyberbullying awareness and response.

II. Enhanced Child Pornography Enforcement

Lastly, the law enhances child pornography enforcement by making any person who violates any provision of section 2252 of Title 18, which addresses certain activities relating to material involving the sexual exploitation of minors, liable to the United States for a forfeiture penalty.