PROTECT Act of 2003

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The PROTECT Act of 2003 (Template:USPL, 117 Stat. 650, S. 151, enacted April 30, 2003) is a United States law with the stated intent of preventing child abuse.[1][2] "PROTECT" is a backronym which stands for "Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today".

The PROTECT Act incorporates the Truth in Domain Names Act (TDNA) of 2003 (originally two separate Bills, submitted by Senator Orrin Hatch and Congressman Mike Pence), codified at 18 U.S.C. § 2252(B)(b).[3]


The law has the following effects:[1][4]

  • Provides for mandatory life imprisonment of sex offenses against a minor if the offender has had a prior conviction of abuse against a minor, with some exceptions.
  • Establishes a program to obtain criminal history background checks for volunteer organizations.
  • Authorizes wiretapping and monitoring of other communications in all cases related to child abuse or kidnapping.
  • Eliminates statutes of limitations for child abduction or child abuse.
  • Bars pretrial release of persons charged with specified offenses against or involving children.
  • Assigns a national AMBER Alert Coordinator.
  • Implemented Suzanne's Law. Named after Suzanne Lyall, a missing college student of the University of New York at Albany, the law eliminates waiting periods before law enforcement agencies will investigate reports of missing persons ages 18–21. These reports are also filed with the NCIC.
  • Prohibits computer-generated child pornography when "(B) such visual depiction is a computer image or computer-generated image that is, or appears virtually indistinguishable from that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; (as amended by 1466A for Section 2256(8)(B) of title 18, United States Code).
  • Prohibits drawings, sculptures, and pictures of such drawings and sculptures depicting minors in actions or situations that meet the Miller test of being obscene, OR are engaged in sex acts that are deemed to meet the same obscene condition. The law does not explicitly state that images of fictional beings who appear to be under 18 engaged in sexual acts that are not deemed to be obscene are rendered illegal in and of their own condition (illustration of sex of fictional minors).
  • Sentences increased:
  • Maximum sentence for possession increased from 5 years to 10 years.
  • Minimum sentence for receipt established as 5 years.
  • Maximum sentence for receipt increased from 15 to 20 years.

For the purposes of this law, illicit sexual conduct includes commercial and non-commercial sex with anyone under 18.[6][2][7][8][9] Previous US law was less strict, only punishing those having sex either in contravention of local laws OR in commerce (prostitution); but did not prohibit non-commercial sex with, for example, a 14 year-old if such sex was legal in the foreign territory.[Citation needed]

The PROTECT Act mandated that the United States Attorney General promulgate new regulations to enforce the 2257 recordkeeping regulation, colloquially known as the '2257 Regulations'. The Free Speech Coalition has filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Justice claiming the 2257 Regulations are unconstitutional.[Citation needed]

The PROTECT Act includes prohibitions against illustrations depicting child pornography, including computer-generated illustrations, also known as virtual child pornography.[1][2][4] Provisions against virtual child pornography in the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 had been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2002 decision, Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition.

The act was signed into law by President George W. Bush on April 30, 2003.[10]

Application of the Act

On April 6, 2006, in United States v. Williams, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that one component of the PROTECT Act, the "pandering provision" codified at 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(3)(B) of the United States Code, violated the First Amendment. The "pandering provision" conferred criminal liability on anyone who knowingly

advertises, promotes, presents, distributes, or solicits through the mails, or in interstate or foreign commerce by any means, including by computer, any material or purported material in a manner that reflects the belief, or that is intended to cause another to believe, that the material or purported material is, or contains (i) an obscene visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or (ii) a visual depiction of an actual minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

The Williams court held that although the content described in subsections (i) and (ii) is not constitutionally protected, speech that advertises or promotes such content does have the protection of the First Amendment. Accordingly, § 2252A(a)(3)(B) was held to be unconstitutionally overbroad. The Eleventh Circuit further held that the law was unconstitutionally vague, in that it did not adequately and specifically describe what sort of speech was criminally actionable.[Citation needed]

The Department of Justice appealed the Eleventh Circuit's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the Eleventh Circuit's ruling in May 2008 and upheld this portion of the act.[11]

The first conviction of a person found to have violated the sections of the act relating to virtual child pornography, Dwight Whorley of Virginia, was upheld in a 2-1 panel decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2008.[12] This decision was consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition in which the Supreme Court held that virtual child pornography was protected free speech, provided that the virtual depictions are not obscene. Obscenity, including obscene depictions of children, either virtual or real, is unprotected speech. (Whorley was also convicted of offenses in connection with pornographic depictions of real children.)

Also in, 2008, Christopher Handley pled guilty to charges related to the PROTECT Act, in exchange for a six month plea deal. He was facing a maximum sentence of up to twenty years. While not convicted by a jury, he was the first person charged—and convicted—under the PROTECT Act for the lone act of possessing art deemed obscene. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys noted that the plea deal was due to the high risk of a constitutional challenge, and the federal government agreed that Handley would not be required to register as a sex offender. [Citation needed]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Fact Sheet PROTECT Act. Department of Justice (April 30, 2003).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Full Text of S.151 - PROTECT Act (Enrolled as Agreed to or Passed by Both House and Senate). Library of Congress.
  3. Jane K. Winn and Benjamin Wright (2000). The law of electronic commerce. 2008–02 Supp. (4th ed.). Aspen Publishers Online. pp. 11–21. ISBN 9780735516489. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 S. 151--108th Congress (2003): Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003. (database of federal legislation). Retrieved on 2008-09-01.
  5. Chaninat & Leeds Sex Crimes in Thailand Part 1: US Sex Laws Abroad. Thailand Law Forum, September 2009
  6. U.S. Department of State
  7. United States Code, Title 18 Chapter 117, 18 USC Sec. 2423, Subsections (c) and (f)
  8. United States Code, Title 18 Chapter 109A, 18 USC Sec. 2243, Subsection (a)
  9. Jury Instruction -- Affecting Interstate or Foreign Commerce
  10. President Signs PROTECT Act: President's Remarks Upon Signing of S. 151, the Protect Act. , White House Office of the Press Secretary (April 30, 2003).
  11. Decision in US v. Williams (PDF). Retrieved on 2008-05-19.
  12. Decision in US v. Whorley (PDF). Retrieved on 2010-01-16.

Further reading

External links