Sex offender? Welcome to registering your email address

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MySpace has been under a lot of pressure to do something about the alleged threat from "sexual predators" using their service. As I've observed before, there's not really much they can do unilaterally. They appear to have decided to deal with this problem New York Attorney General Cuomo has proposed legislation to restrict sex offenders use of the Internet:
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."

...

"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."

OK, so at some level this isn't completely insane. As I said earlier, clearly MySpace can't do this alone, so if your plan is to keep sex offenders off MySpace, then you're going to need some kind of legislation to let you identify them. That said, it's not really clear why this is thought to be valuable. Presumably if you get busted for being a sex offender it's not like you're not going to be overconcerned about whatever odditional penalty you're going to get for failing to register your email address or illegally using MySpace.

Nigam makes the analogy to having to register your physical address, but this doesn't really make much sense. You've got to live somewhere, so it's kind of noticeable if you don't register your physical address, and the parole officer can come by and check up on where you live. So, to the extent to which you think it's important to figure out where sex offenders live (again, it's not clear it really is), it's fairly doable. By contrast, you can have as many email addresses as you want and it's not particularly difficult to get yourself an untraceable or at least hard to trace email address, so it's extremely hard to verify that sex offenders have actually registered their addresses if they make any attempt to evade this law.

And of course this assumes that it's particularly useful to be able to keep sex offenders off of services like MySpace and Facebook. That's not really clear. I'd be interested to see if there is any good data on how many sex offenses actually result from solicitations on services like this.

3 Comments

Somehow I cannot help from thinking that these cute article titles:

Sex offender? Welcome to registering your email address.

That people get some sort of deranged glee from the ever changing punishment of an entire class of people.Until their loved ones become ensnared in the laws(if they do, because of their connections)they
just do not care. Offenders with no place to live banished from their communities,forced to sleep,under under bridge and eat from garbage
cans has been accepted as the punishment of choice
and no one speaks up because they do not want to be perceived as soft on crime.
Keep it up politicians. In you obsession to make sex offenders less than human you further your agenda to your agenda to destroy human rights away from one group and one right at a time. I truly pray it never happens to you or one you love.

Well, I'm sorry if you think got the impression that I take any kind of pleasure in it, since that isn't my point at all. If you read the body of my post, I think you'll see that I'm quite skeptical of this plan.

ValleyWag had a write up on this "useless at best" legislation and linked to this article: http://www.internetnews.com/bus-news/article.php/3698836

The choice quote you ask for?

"According to Finklehor's research, only 7 percent of arrests for statutory rape in 2000 were Internet-related. He says that most of those cases are what he calls "criminal seductions," where most of the victims are teenagers seduced by adults who did not try to conceal the fact that they were adults."

Fascinatingly, the research also claims rates between 2.1 to 3.5 recidivism for sexual offenders (robbery was 6.5 for comparison). That's far less than I would have I guessed. Just goes to show the hysteria over sexual offenses has even gotten to a skeptic like myself.

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