Safeguarding children

The fight against child pornography got a welcome boost this week when the Supreme Court upheld a law that makes it illegal for anyone to peddle or solicit explicit images of real children.

The decision came in the case of Michael Williams, a Florida man who claimed in an Internet chat room that he possessed lewd pictures of himself and his young daughter; Mr. Williams was offering to share or swap his photos with others having similar material. Mr. Williams, as it turns out, was lying about these pictures, but federal agents found in his possession dozens of photos depicting other children in lewd poses or engaged in sexual acts. Mr. Williams was convicted of one count of pandering under the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today (Protect) Act of 2003, which prohibits knowingly advertising or promoting "any material or purported material in a manner that reflects the belief, or that is intended to cause another to believe, that the material or purported material" is child pornography. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit threw out Mr. Williams's conviction for pandering after finding that the law was vague, overly broad and in violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. The justices should be commended for reversing the lower court.

Unlike an earlier version of the law, the Protect Act was crafted to target only those who peddle, solicit or claim to be peddling or soliciting pornographic images of real children. Law enforcement officers and child advocates have testified that such images of real children &

rather than computer or simulated images of children &

are coveted by pedophiles and are in great demand. That demand inevitably leads to the sexual, emotional and psychological abuse of children. By narrowly targeting only those who have or purport to have images of real children, lawmakers not only averted constitutional problems but also sought to quash demand for such material. In his opinion for the 7 to 2 majority, Justice Antonin Scalia made clear that those who accurately hawk material depicting young-looking adults or computer images of children are not covered by the Protect Act; works of art or fiction that are properly advertised as such are also not suspect, as long as real children are not used in producing the work.

The court's decision to approve the Protect Act gives law enforcement officials a powerful tool to combat the scourge of child pornography that has only grown since the advent of the Internet. But this tool must be used carefully. Prosecutors must not attempt to use the law to punish or harass those who produce, sell or consume adult pornography &

a product that many find distasteful but that enjoys the protections of the First Amendment. Judges who preside over Protect Act prosecutions should not hesitate to throw out such cases if prosecutors overreach.

"" The Washington Post

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