New York’s legislative leaders, at the request of Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, have introduced a new and comprehensive bill known as the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP) that establishes vital protections against sexual predators so that users of the Internet can more safely surf the Web.
e-STOP would require sex offenders to register their email addresses, instant message screen names and any other online identifiers, and would give access to that information to online social networking companies. Those sites would then be able to pre-screen and block access by convicted sex offenders.
According to the state Division for Criminal Justice Services, there are nearly 25,000 registered sex offenders in the state. 9,565 are level 2 registered sex offenders (moderate risk to commit another sex crime). 6,515 are level 3 registered sex offenders (high risk to commit another sex crime and a threat to public safety exists).
Sex offenders have been shown to have recidivism rates far higher than those who commit other types of crimes. The Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP) Act:
- Requires that sex offenders register all of their Internet accounts and Internet identifiers (email addresses and designations used for chat, instant messaging, social networking or other similar Internet communication) with the State Division of Criminal Justice Services. –
- Authorizes the Division of Criminal Justice Services to release state sex offender Internet identifiers (email addresses and designations used for chat, instant messaging, social networking or other similar Internet communication) to social networking sites and certain other online services, that may be used to pre-screen or remove sex offenders from using the site’s services, and notify law enforcement authorities and other government officials of potential violations of law and threats to public safety.
- Requires, as a condition of probation or parole, mandatory restrictions on a sex offender’s access to the Internet where the offender’s victim was a minor, the Internet was used to commit the offense or the offender was designated a level 3 (highest level) offender.
Such offenders would be banned from accessing social networking web sites, accessing pornographic materials, communicating with anyone for the purpose of promoting sexual relations with a minor, and communicating, in most circumstances, with anyone under the age of 18.
Passage of the bill would give law enforcement additional abilities to protect the public. One problem hindering prosecutions of internet based harassment is the lack of laws on the books that apply to internet communication.
This problem reared up in the investigation of the suicide of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old girl from Missouri. Megan’s suicide is linked to internet harassment and bullying using a fake online account on MySpace.
There has been a sharp increase in concern for sex offenders making unsavory use of online social networking companies such as MySpace and Facebook. Attorney General Cuomo was one of 49 attorneys general to reach an agreement with MySpace, the country’s largest social-networking Web site, to take new steps to protect children from sexual predators and bullies on its site. MySpace also agreed to lead a nationwide effort to develop technology to verify the ages and identities of Internet users.
Facebook recently reached a settlement with Cuomo concerning his consumer fraud investigation of the company. Facebook agreed, among other things, to step up the policing of pornography, harassment and inappropriate behavior on its social networking site.