- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Just a few years ago, parents could rely on the four walls of their homes to keep their children safe. But in an age in which social networking sites have replaced the playground, parents face the new challenge of keeping their children safe from criminals who operate online.

While the Internet has proved to be of great value in many aspects of our lives, it has also become a vehicle for sex predators and pedophiles to distribute child pornography images and encourage others to engage in child pornography.

Child pornography may be the fastest-growing crime in America, increasing an average of 150 percent per year. The Justice Department estimates that there are now more than 1 million pornographic images of children on the Internet. The department also estimates that one-third of the world’s pedo-philes involved in organized child porno- graphy rings live in the United States.

We must do more to keep our children safe from online sexual exploitation. That’s why we have co-sponsored H.R. 1981, the ProtectingChildrenfromInternetPornographersAct. H.R. 1981 enables law enforcement officials to successfully locate and prosecute those who want to hurt our children.

Often, the only way to identify a pedophile who operates a website or exchanges child pornography images with other pedophiles is by an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Law enforcement officials must obtain a subpoena and then request from the Internet Service Provider the name and address of the user of the IP address. Unfortunately, Internet Service Providers regularly purge these records, making it difficult, if not impossible, for investigators to apprehend child pornographers on the Internet.

H.R. 1981 directs Internet Service Providers to retain IP addresses longer in order to assist federal law enforcement officials with child pornography and other Internet investigations.

This narrow provision is specifically for the IP addresses the providers assign to their customers. It does not require the retention of any content, so the bill does not threaten any legitimate privacy interests of Internet users.

H.R. 1981 requires providers to retain these records for 12 months. This is less than an existing federal regulation that requires telephone companies to retain records for 18 months, including the name, address and telephone number of the caller, plus each phone number called and the date, time and length of the call.

If telephone companies are already required to retain certain information to aid in the investigation of a crime, why shouldn’t Internet Service Providers be expected to do the same? In effect, this bill merely applies to the Internet what has applied to telephones for decades.

This is a common-sense bill that will make it possible for investigators to catch these criminals and at the same time, reduce child pornography on the Internet and spare thousands of children from being sexually exploited.

It is hard to believe that anyone would stand in the way of protecting our children from sexual predators. Yet there are some critics who contend that data retention is unnecessary because current law already requires Internet Service Providers to preserve records at the request of law enforcement agents for 90 days. But providers can only preserve the information they still have. By the time investigators discover the Internet child pornography and make the request under this provision, the provider has often already purged the IP address records.

Both Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and FBI Director Robert Mueller have testified that data retention is invaluable to investigating child pornography and other Internet-based crimes. And both Democratic and Republican administrations have called for data retention for a decade.

We will continue to work with stakeholders to make sure that the bill balances privacy concerns and the needs of Internet Service Providers. But we should all agree that more needs to be done to protect children from sexual predators.

Data retention is necessary to help track down and apprehend pedophiles who abuse children and destroy lives. Our children - the most innocent among us - deserve and need our help.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democrat, is a member of the House Judiciary Committee.