With the prodding of Oprah Winfrey and Ed Smart (father of kidnapped-and-found Elizabeth Smart), the Senate passed a bill Friday that is designed to help protect children from Internet predators and to help investigation of child exploitation, including child pornography.

"For the first time in history, this bill mandates an annual national strategy for federal law enforcement's efforts to address child exploitation." It should help shine "a bright light on those who wish to stay hidden in the dark," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a chief co-sponsor of the bill introduced by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.

Winfrey and Smart had helped push for the bill that, among other things, will authorize $320 million over five years to help law enforcement agencies investigate child exploitation, including buying high-tech equipment to track online predators.

Smart, representing the Surviving Parents Coalition, a group of parents of children who were abducted, sexually assaulted or missing, said that with it, "Many of our children will be saved from the worst forms of abuse and exploitation, thus helping to stop the cycle of violence."

Smart added, "We are only at the beginning of this ubiquitous problem. The funding must be appropriated, with those implementing this legislation having no hidden priority or agenda other than the most effective and efficient effort of stopping this scourge."

The bill now goes to the House, which had hoped to adjourn on Friday. But Congress has essentially gone into overtime to address the country's economic meltdown. That has given additional time to consider such legislation.

Hatch said that last year, law enforcement agencies reported that an estimated 300,000 people were buying or selling photos and movies of children being sexually abused.

"I am sickened by the number of individuals across the country who actively share explicit child pornography videos," Hatch said. "These criminals seemingly operate with no fear of being caught. It is my hope that this bill, by providing for resources to expand state task forces , will allow law enforcement to go after these monsters."

Hatch said, "We want (such people) to be constantly looking over their collective shoulder and to realize that operating over the Internet will not hide them from the severe consequences of their inexcusable actions."


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