Combating Child Pornography:

Federal Agencies Coordinate Law Enforcement Efforts, but an Opportunity Exists for Further Enhancement

GAO-03-272: Published: Dec 2, 2002. Publicly Released: Dec 2, 2002.

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The trafficking of child pornography through increasingly sophisticated electronic media, including Internet chat rooms, newsgroups, and peer-to-peer networks, has made such images more readily accessible. These technological advances have created more challenges for law enforcement, including requiring effective coordination to combat this crime. The federal law enforcement agencies that play a role in investigating child pornography are the FBI, Customs, Postal Inspection Service, and Secret Service. This report provides information on the coordination of federal efforts to combat child pornography. Specifically, it (1) identifies mechanisms federal agencies have in place to combat child pornography and (2) provides information on an opportunity to further enhance coordination among federal law enforcement agencies.

Federal agencies responsible for combating child pornography have various coordination mechanisms in place for combating this crime. These coordinated efforts have contributed to increases in the number of federal child pornography cases prosecuted over the past 5 years. Federal coordination mechanisms to combat child pornography include monthly meetings of officials from key federal law enforcement agencies, Justice attorneys' efforts to coordinate and consolidate prosecution of cases, multiple federal task forces to coordinate services and investigative activities, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) provides child pornography tips to designated law enforcement agencies. Although law enforcement officials and leading communication service providers generally view current coordination mechanisms as effective, an opportunity exists to further enhance information sharing. Remote computing and electronic communication service providers are mandated under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998 to report all instances of child pornography to NCMEC. Currently, FBI and Customs have direct access to these child pornography-related tips reported to NCMEC by communication service providers. Despite their role in combating child pornography, the Postal Inspection Service and the Secret Service lack direct access to these reports. Representatives from the Customs Service, Postal Inspection Service, and Secret Service reviewed a draft of this report and concurred with the information presented in the report. However, Justice in its official comments believed that GAO's recommendation for more tip sharing was unnecessary, but agreed to continue to study the issue.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To further enhance the coordination of the various law enforcement agencies' efforts to combat child pornography, the Attorney General should designate the Postal Inspection Service and Secret Service as agencies that should receive reports of child pornography under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998 in addition to FBI and Customs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOJ issued regulation (28 C.F.R. 81.1 et seq) in response to a recommendation GAO made to further enhance the coordination of the various law enforcement agencies' efforts to combat child pornography (Combating Child Pornography: Federal Agencies Coordinate Law Enforcement Efforts, but An Opportunity Exists for Further Enhancement--GAO-03-272, November 29, 2002). The regulation designating the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Secret Service (among others) as agencies that should receive reports of child pornography under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, was cleared and published as final rule on November 4, 2003, at 68 Fed. Reg. 62370. (See 28 C.F.R. 81.1 et seq.)

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