Bill gets tough on online predators
State Attorney General Roy Cooper pushed for the change in the law to help investigators catch individuals who pursue children online.
The N.C. Senate unanimously approved the Child Exploitation Prevention Act on Tuesday. Having already secured approval from the House on June 8, the bill will now go before Gov. Mike Easley for his signature.
"Child predators are online and on the prowl, and we want to stop them before they hurt our children," Cooper said. "Now we’ve given law enforcement another tool they can use against these criminals who think they’re protected by the anonymity of the Internet."
The new law, which takes effect Dec. 1, makes it a felony to solicit anyone the perpetrator believes to be a child, including an undercover officer.
Under the existing law, someone who solicits an officer posing as a minor could only be charged with a misdemeanor.
Convicted online predators will be required to register with the state’s Sex Offender Registry and to provide DNA samples for the state’s convicted offender database.
The new legislation comes a little more than a week after the state announced it had executed the largest child pornography sweep in its history.
The State Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force has served search warrants to 58 suspects throughout North Carolina since June 6.
To date, 15 arrests have been made, with more expected to come.
One of the suspects arrested in the sweep was 31-year-old Matthew B. Jones, of 111 Pineola Lane. Authorities believe Jones used his computer last year to access a pornographic film involving children.
William McKinney, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Justice, said the suspect has not yet been charged, but evidence seized at his residence during a June 7 search is still being investigated.
Cooper has asked legislators to finance four additional SBI field agents and three more computer forensic experts to analyze information from computers submitted as evidence to the SBI crime lab.
"We’ve made protecting children from predators and pornographers a key priority for the SBI and that focus is paying off, but with more help for law enforcement, we can do even more," Cooper said.
Michael Pucci can be reached at 349-4331, ext. 16.
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