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1/29/2008
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Sex Offender E-Mail Registry Proposed To Protect Minors Online

Facebook and MySpace have committed to using the E-STOP registry as soon as it is operational.

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced new state legislation to protect underage Internet users.

The Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (E-STOP) requires paroled sex offenders to submit their e-mail addresses and online identities to a central registry that will be used to deny them access to social networking sites. The bill also would forbid sex offenders, on parole or probation, from communicating online with anyone under the age of 18 if the offender is classified level 3 (high-risk of re-offending) or if the offender's crime involved the Internet or a minor.

"The Internet is great and it affords us all sorts of opportunities and promise," Cuomo said at a press conference. "But there are also perils on the Internet. And young children who have great facility with the Internet but still a certain level of naiveté are in a position of danger."

Social networking sites, said Cuomo, "put up a billboard for sexual predators."

MySpace and Facebook, said Cuomo, asked for new legislation to help them make their social networks safe. And that's what the E-STOP Act aims to provide. Cuomo described it as a Megan's Law for the age of the Internet. Megan's Law, named after murdered seven-year-old Megan Kanka, refers to a collection of state and federal laws enacted in the 1990s that require sex offenders to register so that communities can be informed of their presence.

"The law that we're talking about today does two things," said Cuomo. "First, as a mandatory condition of parole or probation for serious sex offenders, it will prohibit them from going on social networking sites that attract young people or from communicating on the Internet with any person under 18 years old. Second, it sets up an e-mail registry where every parolee will have to give their e-mail or their on-screen identities to a state registry. And it establishes a process whereby the social networking sites or Internet sites can take that Internet registry, run it against their site, and screen or delete the users who are on both lists. It also allows Internet service companies to notify law enforcement, who can then take the appropriate action."

Cuomo said that Facebook and MySpace have committed to using the registry as soon as it is operational. He also said that there's no law comparable to E-STOP elsewhere in the country.

"Rather than treating the online and offline worlds differently, our goal at MySpace has been and will continue to be to make our virtual neighborhood as safe as our real one," said Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer of Fox Interactive, which owns MySpace. "We keep a watchful eye on predators who leave our jails and prisons into our physical world. If we fail to do so in our online world, we unwittingly provide an advantage to these predators, an advantage that they can and they will exploit."

"As Facebook and other Internet companies do our best to exclude those likely to do our users harm, we need assistance from government to identify those individuals," said Chris Kelly, chief privacy officer of Facebook. "Sex offender registries are a good tool, but they need to be improved by adding electronic identifiers and by making it a crime for convicted offenders to misrepresent their identity online. The E-STOP Act is another comprehensive step in the right direction."

Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said there currently are 627,000 registered sex offenders in the United States and 28 million regular users of the Internet between the ages of 10 and 17. Said Allen, "Recent research from the University of New Hampshire indicates that one in seven of those regular users routinely receive sexual solicitations while online."

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