It would try to keep pedophiles off social networking sites
by Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer
Critics are ridiculing the latest legislative effort to combat online
sexual predators, saying provisions of a law proposed Tuesday would be
easy to circumvent and amounted to little more than political "window
dressing" supported by the online social networking giant MySpace.com.
But sponsors -- which include influential senators like John McCain,
R-Ariz., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., -- say the Keeping the Internet
Devoid of Sexual Predators Act of 2007 addresses a small, but important,
part of ridding social networking sites of predators:
It tries to remove the known offenders trolling them.
Plus, the bill would make it a crime for anyone over the age of 18 to
misrepresent their age with the intent to use the Internet to engage
in criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Together, lawmakers said the
provisions would give law enforcement more legal tools to ensnare
convicted sexual offenders, should they try to prey upon minors again.
Introduced in the House and Senate, the bill requires convicted sexual
offenders to register their e-mail and instant messaging addresses
with the National Sex Offender Registry. The Department of Justice
would make that information available to social networking sites, to
compare with user profiles in their system.
Last month, MySpace teamed up with the security firm Sentinel Tech to
create a database technology to remove sexual offenders from online
communities. This week, it donated the technology to the National
Center for Missing and Exploited Children. MySpace is currently
beta-testing the technology, and has already removed a few known sex
offenders from its site.
As for the bill's intent to stop age misrepresentation, Internet
safety experts say nice try, but hardly enforceable. Parry Aftab, a
cyberspace attorney and executive director of the 8-year-old
WiredSafety.org, said only "the stupidest" online predators would use
their registered online monikers, she said. And "while there's a lot
of stupid sexual predators, it's easy to get around" (the proposal).
"I love the idea, but who's going to comply?" Aftab said. "I don't
want to dismiss the efforts of anyone who's trying to help, but what
we're coming up with is a lot of knee-jerk legislation."
"It's a step in the right direction, but how easy is it to change your
e-mail address?" said Judi Westberg Warren, president of Web Wise
Tim Donovan, founder of http://www.imbee.com the fledgling Oakland
social network site targeted at people under 13 years old, said it
seems many politicians are "focused on catching criminals and
predators, but where are the efforts at educating parents and kids
about Internet safety?" Users at imbee.com must personally know with
whom they are communicating online, and parents are able to monitor
their child's online wanderings.
MySpace's support of Tuesday's legislation is its latest effort to try
to blunt public concern about a few high-profile cases of predators
meeting underage users on the site. Earlier this month, four families
whose underage daughters were sexually abused after meeting people
they encountered on MySpace sued News Corp., the site's parent
company, alleging it was negligent in not creating safety measures to
protect younger users.
MySpace policy bans children younger than 14 from the site, which
contains 150 million profiles. Teens 14 or 15 years old can show their
full profiles -- which can contain a variety of personal information
-- only to people on their list of known friends.
However, it is up to users to confirm their ages to the site. MySpace
announced this month that it was developing software to allow parents
to see if their children were creating multiple profiles -- one to
show to their folks, another to show to the rest of the world. Dubbed
Zephyr, the parental tools are expected to be available this summer.
But critics said Tuesday's legislation will do nothing to address
their main desire: They want MySpace to increase its minimum age to 16
and require that parents confirm their children's ages.
"This is the nothing more than window dressing," Connecticut Attorney
General Richard Blumenthal told The Chronicle Tuesday. Blumenthal is
leading a coalition of 34 attorneys general pondering legal action
He also was concerned about a provision of the bill that would offer
"liability relief," should a social networking site misidentify one of
its users as a sexual predator based on information in the national
registry. "It seems like that would provide blanket immunity,"
The bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., said Blumenthal
"may be reading (the legislation) too broadly."
"I think this legislation is another step to protect children from
sexual predators," Pomeroy said. Convicted sex offenders are required
to register their home addresses, he said, so why not their virtual
E-Mail Joe Garofoli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2007 San Francisco Chronicle.
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