For Immediate Release - February 09, 2010

Attorney General Martha Coakley Teams with Chairman O'Flaherty and Other Legislators to Sponsor Bill to Protect Children From Online Predators

Bill adds electronic communications to definition of harmful material

BOSTON - Today, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, House Judiciary Chairman Eugene L. O'Flaherty (D-Chelsea) and 50 other legislators filed An Act Further Defining the Dissemination of Obscene Material," a bill that will update the law regarding the dissemination of harmful material to minors to include various types of electronic communications. Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that electronic communications such as instant messages are not covered under the state's criminal prohibition on the dissemination of harmful material to minors. The bill filed today seeks to update the law to include instant messages and other types of electronic communications in the definition of what constitutes "matter" harmful to children.

"With the growth of the Internet and the changing ways that kids communicate with each other, predators are increasingly using those new technologies to attempt to harm our children," said Attorney General Coakley. "That is why we must continue to update our laws to keep up with today's technology and better protect our children," said Attorney General Coakley. "After last week's SJC decision, our legal team in the Cyber Crime Division worked with Chairman O'Flaherty to draft a bill that would address this issue head on. We will continue to work with the Legislature to identify what changes need to be made to our criminal statutes to ensure that we have the best and most advanced tools to protect our children from sexual predators on the Internet. We are pleased to work with Chairman O'Flaherty and other legislators to make the necessary updates to this statute so that Massachusetts can continue to be on the cutting edge of keeping our children safe."

"The recent decision by the Supreme Judicial Court in the Zubiel case underscores the need for legislation to be clear and concise. Therefore, the proposed legislation, worked on and filed with the Attorney General, seeks to clarify legislative intent by including the electronic transmission of obscene and lewd material. This legislation updates the statute by including 21st century modes of communication and I am grateful for the expertise of the Attorney General's Office which worked in conjunction with my office in crafting this legislation," said Chairman O'Flaherty.

An Act Further Defining the Dissemination of Obscene Material would amend Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 272, Section 31, which provides the definition of what "matter" is considered harmful to minors, and therefore is illegal to disseminate to minors under the dissemination statute, General Laws Chapter 272, Section 28. Currently, the definition includes:

"any handwritten or printed material, visual representation, live performance or sound recording including but not limited to, books, magazines, motion picture films, pamphlets, phonographic records, pictures, photographs, figures, statues, plays, dances."

The legislation would update that definition by adding electronic communications, specifically:

"any electronic communication including but not limited to any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo-electronic or photo-optical system."

Since taking office in January 2007, Attorney General Coakley has been an advocate for keeping our kids safe online and enhancing tools for cyber crime investigation and prosecution. Shortly after taking office, Attorney General Coakley established a dedicated Cyber Crime Division within the office's Criminal Bureau to lead the Attorney General's Cyber Crime Initiative. In late 2007, Attorney General Coakley unveiled "The Massachusetts Strategic Plan for Cyber Crime," designed to help the Commonwealth develop a statewide capacity to prevent, investigate, and prosecute crimes with a cyber component. The plan calls for law enforcement training, enhanced information sharing, the development of common operating procedures and standards, funding for cyber crime programs, and amending current law as it pertains to cyber crime. In 2008, Attorney General Coakley's Office led a 49-state coalition in reaching agreements with social networking giants MySpace and Facebook, whereby the sites are required to take significant steps to protect children using the sites from sexual predators. In September 2009, Attorney General Coakley opened a state-of-the-art Computer Forensics Lab in Boston, which is part of the Cyber Crime Initiative and is designed to develop a statewide capacity to deal with cyber crime and more efficiently process digital evidence that is present in virtually every investigation. In the past three years, the Attorney General's Office has provided cyber training for over 7,000 state and local law enforcement personnel from across the Commonwealth.

In addition to Attorney General Coakley and Chairman O'Flaherty, the Online Safety Act is also sponsored by:

Representative Geraldo Alicea

Representative Cory Atkins

Representative Jennifer Benson

Representative Daniel E. Bosley

Representative Garrett J. Bradley

Representative Linda Dean Campbell

Representative Katherine Clark

Representative Cheryl A. Coakley-Rivera

Representative Steven J. D'Amico

Representative Stephen L. DiNitale

Representative Christopher J. Donelan

Representative James Dwyer

Representative Mark V. Falzone

Representative Robert F. Fennell

Representative John V. Fernandes

Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante

Representative William C. Galvin

Representative Ann M. Gobi

Representative Danielle W. Gregoire

Representative Mary E. Grant

Representative Kate Hogan

Representative Louis L. Kafka

Representative John Keenan

Representative Peter V. Kocot

Representative Peter J. Koutoujian

Representative Stephen Kulik

Representative Jason Lewis

Representative David P. Linsky

Representative Barbara L'Italien

Representative Allen McCarthy

Representative James R. Miceli

Representative James M. Murphy

Representative Sarah K. Peake

Representative Vincent A. Pedone

Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch

Representative Karyn E. Polito

Representative Robert L. Rice, Jr.

Representative Pam Richardson

Representative John H. Rogers

Representative Jeffrey Sanchez

Representative Rosemary Sandlin

Representative John W. Scibak

Representative Frank I. Smizik

Representative Christopher N. Speranzo

Representative William M. Straus

Representative Cleon H. Turner

Representative James E. Vallee

Representative Brian P. Wallace

Representative James T. Welch

Representative Alice K. Wolf