Child Pornography Laws

The Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1988

In the obvious attempt to curb the exploitation of children and underage teens in the making and selling of pornography, the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act requires the porn industry (both makers and publishers) to comply with "stringent record-keeping requirements" involving the ages of their models and porn stars.

The most famous case involving this Act is that of Joe Francis of the Girls Gone Wild videos, with titles like "Daddy's Little Girls" and "Finally 18!" Francis was accused by the federal government of failing to comply with keeping proper records on the ages of the girls featured in his videos.

The PROTECT Act of 2003

In 2007, Nina Totenberg with NPR reported on the "range" of a child pornography law then under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court, meaning how far the PROTECT Act of 2003 (which, among many other things, authorizes mandatory life imprisonment in certain cases) could go in criminalizing the promotion of child pornography.

This was United States v. Williams. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the charge of "pandering," or promoting child pornography (including virtual pornography)-whether or not the person actually possessed child pornography-was constitutional under the First Amendment.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote: "[W]e have held that the government may criminalize the possession of child pornography, even though it may not criminalize the mere possession of obscene material involving adults." Scalia went on to write that promotion of child pornography, not just possession, could also be criminalized.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006

The Adam Walsh Act is a piece of federal legislation that authorized the national sex offender registry and organized offenders into three tiers. This law also allowed for the civil commitment of some types of sex offenders (in many jurisdictions, the length of time one spends in civil commitment is indefinite).

There are many offenses under the Adam Walsh Act that require some form of sex offender registration, including offenses involving the possession, production, or distribution of child pornography.

Tier 1 offenders must register annually for 15 years. Tier 2 offenders must register every six months for 25 years. Tier 3 offenders must register every three months for the rest of their lives.

U.S. Code of Federal Regulations

The Department of Justice, or DOJ, has broad authority to investigate and prosecute under the Code of Federal Regulations. 18 U.S. Code Section 2251 through Section 2260 governs the sexual exploitation of children, including possession, production, distribution and receipt of child pornography.

"Our mission," according to the DOJ, "is to protect children from sexual exploitation through the vigorous enforcement of federal laws, and to continuously improve the federal response to these serious crimes."