Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of the Targeting Child Predators Act of 2017 (H.R. 883).
Chairman Goodlatte: Over the past few decades, the Internet has revolutionized every aspect of modern society, including the ways we communicate, socialize, and conduct our business and geopolitical affairs. Unfortunately, it has also been used as a channel for predators to reach our children – a way for predators to reach these most vulnerable citizens while they are home, a place where they are supposed to be and feel safe from harm.
When a predator succeeds in that mission, the damage is tremendous. That’s why the prevention and interdiction of child exploitation crimes committed on the Internet is so important.
In 1998, Congress authorized the FBI to use administrative subpoenas in investigations of child exploitation because time is of the essence in these cases. The purpose of these subpoenas is to allow law enforcement to obtain information quickly and efficiently. At times, the ability to do this can be the difference between life and death for an innocent child. In giving this authority to DOJ and FBI, Congress created a provision whereby the agency could use this subpoena power to gather non-content information from service providers. This capability is narrowly limited to cases of child exploitation.
In recent years, service providers have adopted policies where they disclose the existence of these subpoenas to their customers – in these cases, the target of the investigation. In some cases, this can put a victim in imminent danger, cause the target to flee or destroy evidence, or otherwise endanger the integrity of the investigation.
This means that law enforcement officers, who are using these subpoenas in child sexual exploitation cases where there is significant risk of harm, must now apply to courts for non-disclosure orders, which defeats the original purpose of permitting the use of the administrative subpoena to investigate these horrific crimes in the first place.
This bill provides a much-needed solution in allowing the official issuing the subpoena to direct the recipient not to disclose its existence for 180 days. It can be used only in cases where the official certifies it is necessary due to the risk of harm; flight; expiration of evidence; or otherwise seriously jeopardizes the investigation.
Additionally, and significantly, the bill provides for due process by allowing the recipient service provider to challenge the nondisclosure before a court if the recipient chooses to do so.
This is an important bill which makes a narrow but much needed change to existing federal law, and provides law enforcement with a necessary tool to combat child predators when time is of the essence.
I urge support of H.R. 883.