The U.S. government is looking for ways to curb the multi-billion dollar child pornography business, which lawmakers say has grown almost as fast as the Internet. The U.S. Senate Banking Committee believes one solution is to remove credit card privileges for online child porn rings.
A study by a children's advocacy group says images of sexually exploited children have increased by 1,500 percent in the last 10 years.
Ranking Democratic Party Senator Paul Sarbanes says one way to fight the growing problem is to remove the financial incentive. "Without access to the payment system, it's reasonable to believe that the Internet child pornography industry will certainly shrink and perhaps die. That is why an essential way to identify and stop the criminals involved is to, quote, follow the money".
Republican Senator Richard Shelby says that requires the cooperation of credit card companies. "Unfortunately our banks and credit card companies, which have been instrumental in the Internet commerce revolution, have become an unintentional part of the problem. Credit cards provide an easy and quick method of payment and are accepted worldwide. Purveyors of child pornography know this and they use the Internet and the credit card system to exploit and abuse innocent children for profit."
Some credit card companies have already joined forces with financial institutions and child advocacy groups. Mark MacCarthy is the head of VISA card's Public Policy. "In August of this year our search firm examined over 11 million Internet sites a day and found two child pornography sites that accepted Visa cards. Of course that's two too many."
Since then Visa has identified nine more sites. Ernie Allen, the president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said one website had 70,000 members who were paying $30 a month to view children being sexually assaulted. "The reason they're into it now is that the profits are enormous and the risks are minimal. What we're trying to do is increase the risks and eliminate the profits."
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wants tougher laws. He's lobbying Congress to force Internet providers to keep records for up to two years to make it easier for law enforcement officials to prosecute people who buy and sell sexually explicit images of children. "Each image literally documents a crime scene," he said.
Estimates show Internet child pornography is a $20 billion a year industry. Child advocacy groups say the goal is to eliminate such commercial exploitation by the year 2008.