WASHINGTON – Today, amidst a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” Sen. Mike Lee announced the introduction of the Preventing Rampant Online Technological Exploitation and Criminal Trafficking (PROTECT) Act. This legislation addresses the pressing issue of online sexual exploitation and imposes stringent requirements on internet service providers.
The PROTECT Act compels sites to verify the age of all participants in pornographic images and those uploading pornographic images. Additionally, it requires sites to obtain verified consent forms from individuals uploading content and those appearing in uploaded content. It also stops the sharing of child sexual abuse material and revenge pornography online by mandating that websites quickly remove images upon receiving notice they were uploaded without consent or face potential civil and criminal liability.
Of the bill, Sen. Lee said, “Tech companies need to do more to prevent the exploitation that is occurring on their platforms and allow individuals to remove images shared without their consent. The PROTECT Act is a step in that direction.”
Sen. Lee’s bill responds to a disturbing trend wherein survivors of sexual abuse are repeatedly victimized through the widespread distribution of non-consensual images of themselves on social media platforms. A recent study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children revealed a chilling statistic: a single image of child sexual abuse material resurfaced more than 490,000 times after being reported.
Sen. Lee pressed Meta CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, inquiring why more robust and proactive measures were not being taken to ensure the safety and protection of children who use Meta’s platforms.
Sen. Lee: “Why not restrict explicit content for 16-17 year olds as well?”
Mark Zuckerberg: “It’s my understanding that we don’t allow sexually explicit content for people of any age.“
Sen. Lee: “And how is that going?”
Victims have had to wage an uphill battle for years, pleading with online platforms to remove images they never consented to share. Sadly, their efforts have often yielded little to no success. Homeland Security Investigations have documented cases where victims of unauthorized images were stalked even two decades after the image’s creation. In some instances, predators have targeted survivors’ children years later.
The PROTECT Act marks a significant step forward in addressing the critical issue of online sexual exploitation and image-based sexual abuse. By holding tech CEOs accountable and proposing legislation that puts the onus on websites to protect their users, Sen. Lee is pushing for much-needed change in the digital landscape. The PROTECT Act offers hope for survivors and their families, aiming to create a safer online environment.
Of the bill, Survivor Katelynn Spencer said, “When I found out there have been two sexual videos of me posted on Pornhub and other pornography websites for the past 12 years, not once did I feel protected by the law. There are no laws in my state to protect survivors of image-based sexual abuse, but if this bill was and is put in place, it could help so many survivors like me.”
Of the bill, Survivor Uldouz Wallace said, “Technology is updating everyday but the laws haven’t changed. We need the Protect Act because it will protect the future of our children, women, men and ensure that the internet is a safer environment.”
Of the bill, Survivor Victoria Galy said, “Online criminal enterprises have been allowed to flourish unregulated for over a decade. Technology has surpassed the reach of our current laws. The internet and technology have become weapons in digital violence. We desperately need a federal law to protect victims against online image-based sexual abuse including edited and deepfake content. The Protect Act would provide this protection. Similar laws have already been passed in other countries and the U.S. is falling behind.”
Backing from Leading Organizations:
Of the bill, Jon Schweppe, Policy Director of the American Principles Project said, “The more people learn about the online porn industry, the more they demand action against it. By its very nature, online porn is about exploiting the human person, which is why it’s no surprise that the industry has turned a blind eye as child sexual abuse material has flourished. Enough is enough. States have taken the lead in the fight against online porn, but federal engagement is needed. APP is proud to support the PROTECT Act, and we look forward to working with Sen. Lee to pass this important bill into law.”
Of the bill, Dawn Hawkins, CEO, National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Survivor of Deepfake Pornography said, “In an instant, anyone can become a victim of image-based sexual abuse. When child sexual abuse, rape, sex trafficking, or prostitution is filmed and circulated without the permission of those depicted—or when videos made by hidden cameras, deep fake images, or leaked photos are uploaded without consent—survivors have no rights under federal law to get this material removed. Websites distribute and monetize this material, enabling millions of users to watch criminal content or consume deeply personal material. Survivors of these horrific crimes often spend hundreds of hours trying to get it removed from the Internet and for most, their efforts are in vain. The Protect Act would ensure that federal law supports victims of image-based sexual abuse.”
For bill text, click HERE.
For a one-pager, click HERE.