NY Legislature Considers Law Aimed At Keeping Sex Offenders Off Social Networking Sites

New York legislators this week introduced a new law aimed at limiting the ability of convicted sex offenders to use social networking sites.

The bill, the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act, would require sex offenders to register their email addresses and instant message screen names. That information would be turned over to social networking sites, which could then prevent people from creating profiles. Several weeks ago, MySpace said it was ousting convicted sex offenders from the site by comparing names of users with state databases.

The new bill, announced by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, also would require that sex offenders convicted of the most serious crimes be banned from using social networking sites or using the Web to communicate with people under age 18 as a condition of probation or parole.

Similar bills are pending in other jurisdictions, but some critics doubt they will work.

"There really is a question of enforceability, because you know how easy it is to come up with a new screen name or e-mail address," said Sophia Cope, a staff attorney with the Center for Democracy & Technology. Cope said it would be more effective to educate children about online safety.

Some states have gone even further than the New York legislation, enacting laws that potentially limit the ability of sex offenders to use the Web at all. Nevada, Florida and New Jersey have passed legislation that sharply curtails the ability of convicted sex offenders to use the Web.

"When the Internet is everywhere, there is no way to 'wall off' the Internet and stop using it," wrote Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law, in a blog post about the New Jersey law. "The Internet can be accessed through computers, of course, but it's also accessed through cellphones, handheld devices and smart appliances--all of which are seemingly potentially off-limits under this law."

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