Community Commentary:

Innocent children being exploited in pornographic images is disturbing enough without the realization that via the Internet, these sickening images can be spread to millions of viewers with a click of a button. Unfortunately, while we have made great strides and achieved much in the technological arena, our laws on child pornography have not kept pace with the challenges we face in an era of instant information.

With regard to child pornography, current law does not address an increasingly popular method of file-sharing called peer-to-peer file transfer.

In this type of information transfer, pornographers make downloaded images of children available for distribution to others by enabling the “share” function in their peer-to-peer program.

This process makes these images available to millions of people over the Internet.

Prosecuting an individual for distributing pornographic images of children over the Internet is very difficult. It requires proof that the actual distribution of the file came from the suspect's computer.

The problem is there is no way to collect evidence of actual distribution in a peer-to-peer file transfer case.

Since the law does not specifically penalize making contraband material available for access or distribution, what would be a six-year felony — distributing child pornography over the Internet for commercial consideration — becomes a simple possession case, even though thousands of users may have actually received that image.

I have introduced Senate Bill 203 to address this problem. This legislation seeks to remedy the problem by amending the definition of “distribute” contained in the penal code, to include “making available for access or possession over the Internet.”

This small change will give prosecutors the tools they need to charge someone with a felony when he or she makes child pornography available via a peer-to-peer file program.

Additionally, SB 203 would change the law to specify that each individual child exploited would constitute an individual offense.

SB 203 is being held as a two-year bill in Senate Public Safety and will be taken up again in January.

According to the committee chairman, Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), it is being held in committee because it violates the moratorium he has placed on bills that may lengthen prison sentences or establish new crimes or do not provide for counseling or therapy for the convicted.

While I believe we need to address prison overcrowding, it should not be at the expense of the public's safety, especially the safety of innocent children.


? STATE SEN. TOM HARMAN oversees the 35th District, which includes Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

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