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3/27/2007
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Florida Weighing Stronger Penalties For Cybercrime Against Children

Offenders would face up to 15 years in prison, a sentence three times longer than current laws allow.

Florida authorities and lawmakers have taken a series of steps to protect children online.

State lawmakers have introduced the Cybercrimes Against Children Act of 2007, which has gained broad support. Senate and House committees have unanimously approved the bill.

The act would strengthen penalties for the distribution of child pornography and increase penalties for those who lie about their age in order to seduce children over the Internet. Many predators try to break down children's defenses and fend off suspicion by pretending to be closer in age. It would create a separate penalty for pedophiles that contact children online and meet the children to sexually abuse them. Offenders would face up to 15 years in prison, a sentence three times longer than current laws allow.

"Once it's passed, it will have an immediate impact on tracking down child online predators before they're able to contact and act on anything with any children they're trying to contact," said Jenny Nash, communications director for Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, during an interview. "It creates a new crime for travelers, people who go the extra step to meet the children. Once the bill is passed and budget passed, Florida will be a national leader in this area."

State leaders also want to increase spending to fight child predators. The House of Representatives is considering whether to expand McCollum's Child Predator Cybercrime Unit from six employees to 56.

"In this information age that we now live in, it's vital that law enforcement have the tools they need to track down the individuals who use the Internet to prey on children," Florida Rep. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, said in a prepared statement.

A statement from McCollum's office said Florida is one of the worst in the country for volume of child pornography. The Attorney General's Cybercrime Unit works with police, prosecutors, educators, and community leaders to protect children from sexual exploitation and to raise awareness of the problem.

Florida's initiatives were well under way before a federal judge struck down a national law that would have held content providers responsible for disseminating material considered harmful to children.

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