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Baucus: It’s All About the Kids

Montana- As a way to crack down on online sexual predators, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus [pictured] wants to tax Internet pornographers, require porn Web sites to use age-verification software and create a cyber crime task force in Great Falls.

Baucus unveiled his plan to attack cyber crime against children Friday before dozens of students, teachers, local officials and community members who attended the “town hall meeting” and panel discussion at C.M. Russell High School.

Baucus, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, intends to introduce pieces of his plan, “Cyber Safety for Kids,” to Congress in the coming weeks.

Cyber crime is on the rise, and finding ways to deal with the problem are not always easy, said Scott Cruse, FBI supervisory agent.

“This is a crime problem where we will never see the bottom,” Cruse said. “It is very assiduous and hard to detect.”

Often, collecting child pornography or scouring the Internet for child victims eventually leads to sexual assault, said Deputy County Attorney John Parker.

Targeting cyber crime can prevent more serious offenses from occurring, he said.

Law enforcement relies heavily on parents monitoring their children’s computer behavior.

Stationing computers in common areas – not in the child’s bedroom – and also being aware of calls or gifts from strangers can deter a potentially dangerous situation, Cruse said.

Most victims are between the ages of 13 and 17, he said.

But parents can’t police all by themselves. Children browsing the Internet can enter adult Web sites accidentally. When that happens, Baucus hopes his initiatives make it difficult for sexual predators to take advantage of children.

His plan outlines ways to regulate pornographic sites by making users verify that they are over age 18 before entering, requiring that banks and other merchants process only those transactions that are age-verified, and imposing a mandatory 25 percent tax on access of pornographic Web sites.

A portion of the tax revenue would pay for a 24-hour cyber tip line and a chunk would go for cyber crime enforcement.

Baucus is looking for federal money to establish a state cyber crime task force in both Great Falls and Missoula. Start-up costs are estimated at $250,000 each, Baucus said.

Unlike Montana’s current cyber crime task force in Billings, which consists of only FBI agents, the task force in Great Falls and Missoula would involve local and state law enforcement officers, as well as federal agents.

“You get all these people in the same room … it can be highly effective,” Baucus Spokesman Barrett Kaiser said.

There is no timeline as to when Great Falls and Missoula will see the additional cyber enforcement, Kaiser said. Funding must be obtained first.

The plan also calls for establishing a new Internet domain specifically for adult-content Web sites. Instead of “.com” or “.net,” the Web address of adult sites would use “.xxx” at the end. Grouping adult Web sites should keep kids from mistakenly entering them, Baucus said.

Members of the audience Friday agreed that schools should do more to educate children about the dangers of on-line predators.

“We don’t give (kids) a gun without training them,” George Paul said. “We don’t give them a car without training them. Why would we give them a computer without the appropriate training?”

In the age of blogs and personal Web pages, Jordann Lankford, a senior at CMR, suggested officials warn kids about the type of personal information they divulge to the on-line community.

Some people expressed concern regarding teaching young children about sexual predators, a somewhat “taboo” topic. But Cruse said there are ways of educating without the graphic details.

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