New law to help state catch perverts

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - It's a harrowing link and it hits closer to home than you might imagine.

"Statistics bear it out that people who possess child pornography are child molesters," said Jackson County Assistant District Attorney Brice Wiggins. "And there have been studies to show that, and it goes hand in hand."

Officials say numbers of both are on the rise.

"Child predators are not able to approach children in your more traditional settings," said State Representative Brandon Jones (D-Pascagoula). "So what you're turning to more and more is a computer where they can pose as someone else or distribute materials that are illegal and do it from the protection of their own homes."

The sheer numbers of serious child porn distributors in Mississippi have officials appalled.  Jones said there's an estimated 2,000 serious child porn disseminators in Mississippi.  According to officials, that's an estimated 2,000 people who could be committing crimes behind closed doors, with no one to take the witness stand in a court of law.

Local officials use cyber data and digital records to build cases against suspected predators and bring them to trial.  In Jackson County, District Attorney Tony Lawrence has used that type of information to prosecute people on charges of sexual battery and exploitation, to name a few.

At the state level, the same technology exists.  They use a software program called Operation Fairplay, that gives detailed information on child porn activity in the state.  But to allow the Attorney General to use the information from Operation Fairplay required legislative action. A bill, penned by Jones, passed into law this year giving the Attorney General the power to subpoena cyber data.

"It allows the Attorney General's office to open up its playbook a little bit, and to begin to look at the various ways the computer is being utilized to hurt people," Jones said.  "It could be that we save some children from some very serious crime against them."

"This will allow our office to quickly obtain the physical address of child pornographers and child predators," said Attorney General Jim Hood in a statement.  "When we begin using these administrative subpoenas along with the new, cutting edge Operation Fairplay technology, we will be arresting perverts at a record pace."

Jones said the bill will not interfere with local authorities' cyber crime investigations.  Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence said in a statement he supports the bill completely.

"The exploitation of children and the spread of child pornography is a growing problem," he said. "My office has seen a growing trend that is alarming. Studies have shown child pornography breeds child molesters and unfortunately, some child somewhere has been a victim as a result.  We have aggressively prosecuted these types of cases in Jackson, George and Greene Counties.  I support any effort to aid in the prosecution of those who disseminate child pornography."

The bill also gives the Attorney General subpoena power for digital records that could aid in prosecuting white collar crimes as well.

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