REPORT Act Will Protect The Vulnerable Online

May 7, 2024

In America, a child is bought or sold for sexual exploitation every two minutes. Increasingly, this abuse happens online, where predators distribute child sexual abuse material, recruit minors into sex trafficking rings, and extort children into sharing explicit images of themselves. Just last year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received a staggering 36.2 million reports of online child sexual exploitation—a 23 percent increase from 2021.

NCMEC—whose CyberTipline serves as the country’s centralized reporting system for online child abuse—does incredible work to track these crimes and report them to law enforcement, resulting in arrests of predators across the country, including in Tennessee. But, tragically, so many more acts of online sexual abuse against children go unreported.

One big reason why: Although criminal law requires electronic service providers to report any child sex abuse material on their sites, online platforms—including Big Tech sites such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram—have no obligation to report content involving the sex trafficking or grooming of children or enticement crimes.

As a result, most online platforms choose not to report this abhorrent material to law enforcement. And even when they do report the content, electronic service providers often omit necessary information to identify victims and track down abusers.

This gap in our laws is leaving many children defenseless against some of the most heinous crimes imaginable. Thankfully, however, we are seeing real change to address this urgent problem.

This week, President Biden signed into law the Revising Existing Procedures On Reporting via Technology (REPORT) Act, bipartisan legislation I led alongside Senator Ossoff (D-Ga.) that would provide NCMEC and law enforcement the resources they need to crack down on child exploitation.

Crucially, the legislation will require electronic service providers to report instances of child trafficking and enticement, meaning these platforms can no longer ignore the harmful content festering on their sites. To ensure compliance, the bill raises the fine for first violations from $150,000 up to as much as $850,000, and subsequent violations from $300,000 up to $1 million.

For years, we have also heard from law enforcement about the need to modernize laws around reporting online sexual abuse. Evidence of child sexual abuse material, for example, can only be submitted to police through physical thumb drives, making it all the more difficult for NCMEC—which last year received more than 100 million files of potential sexual abuse—to get potentially life-saving information in the hands of law enforcement. At the same time, children and their parents risk legal liability for transferring evidence of online sexual abuse they have experienced when submitting reports to the CyberTipline.

The REPORT Act addresses these issues, allowing organizations like NCMEC to submit evidence to law enforcement through secure cloud storage, and enabling victims to report online exploitation to the relevant authorities. The legislation also increases the retention period for CyberTipline reports from 90 days to a year—meaning law enforcement will have more time to track down and prosecute criminals.

With all the threats children face online, it is our responsibility as a country to ensure that the most vulnerable among us are protected. With the passage of the bipartisan REPORT Act, we are taking a big step forward to making that happen.