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Inside Dateline 'Predator': Testifying in Congress

Chris Hansen: I was not at the hearing to take a policy position. My role was to describe firsthand what we’d found during our 'To Catch a Predator' investigations.

June 28, 2006 |

Searching for a solution (Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent)

Many of my stories have a Washington, D.C. component, so it’s not unusual for me to go there a couple of times a month, usually to do an interview or meet with a source.

But the most recent trip was a first for me. I was asked to testify before a congressional subcommittee—specifically, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Energy and Commerce Committee had asked me to talk about Dateline’s five computer predator investigations in five different states. The subcommittee is looking into whether Internet service providers and social networking sites are doing enough to protect children online.

When it comes to online safety issues, the ISPs and social networking sites are currently pretty much self-regulated. The question in many lawmakers’ minds is this: Is that enough or are new laws needed to regulate the industry? Should the industry be required to retain data like chat-logs for some specified period of time in case they become relevant to a criminal inquiry? Are there enough filters available on these sites to protect children from inappropriate material?

I was not at the hearing to take a policy position on these issues. My role was to describe firsthand what we’d found.

First, they swear you in so that your testimony is under oath. Then the members of the subcommittee each give a statement and then it was time for me to read my prepared testimony. I had written it days in advance to be submitted for the Congressional record and had practiced going over it a few times. I don’t think I appeared too nervous, at least I hope not. I was glad the air conditioning was turned up nice and high. There was near-constant rain in D.C. that day and it was about as humid as a rain forest. 

After my prepared testimony, I showed the subcommittee a DVD which contained excerpts from our “To Catch a Predator” broadcasts. Subcommittee members seemed to watch intensely even though some of them had seen this material before. Afterwards, each lawmaker asked a series of questions, which ranged from how potential predators groom kids to what filters and software are available to shield children from danger.

In the end— and I have said this over and over again— the best line of defense is when a parent has a very blunt and honest conversation with their child about the potential of predators approaching them. Kids are both curious and vulnerable. But if they know they can come to you when something inappropriate happens online without having you overreact, you’re way more likely to know what’s going on.

It was a good mental workout and one I hope that was helpful as Congress, Internet service providers and social networking sites consider ways to protect children online.


Did you miss Chris Hansen's testimony in front of a Congressional subcommittee?  The subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations tackled "Making the Internet Safe for Kids: The Role of ISP’s and Social Networking Sites."

Chris gave a statement and answered questions about Dateline's 'To Catch a Predator series.' Watch his statement, below.

Below is the video of Chris Hansen talking to MSNBC's Chris Jansing afterwards. Check back later when Chris checks in and blogs on the experience. 

June 26, 2006 |

A first for me: a Congressional subcommittee testimony (Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent)

Dateline NBC's Chris Hansen

Since we first started investigating computer predators trying to meet children online, I’ve been asked to speak to a lot of groups, usually students at a school or members of law enforcement at a conference. What is scheduled to happen Tuesday morning though is a first for me.

I’ve been asked to testify in front of a congressional subcommittee in Washington D.C. and take questions afterwards from congressmen looking into the safety of social networking sites. It’s the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The hearing is called “Making the Internet Safe for Kids: The Roles of ISP’s and Social Networking Sites.” I’ll be one of several witnesses scheduled to testify and will share my experiences during Dateline’s five investigations in five states.

The hearing is supposed to start at 10 a.m. and we plan to stream the testimony here on the Web site. Afterwards I’ll share my experience in the witness chair with you on this blog.

Click here to learn more from the Congressional subcomittee Web site. Click here for the full Web home of NBC's 'To Catch a Predator.'