|States Limit Social Networking Use: Good or Bad?|
|By Art Bowker, Cybercrime Specialist|
On almost a daily basis there are media reports about sex offenders being caught online, either trying to pick up a “minor” or viewing child porn. They are also stories about a supervised sex offenders going to a social networking site and getting arrested for failure to maintain their registration. The intersection between sex offending and the Internet seems no longer to be merely a crossroad in the public’s mind but a five lane expressway of deviant behavior. As a result, legislatures appear to be taking a “shotgun” approach to the issue of sex offenders and the Internet. Consider the following:
I get what these legislatures are trying to do. They want to make the Internet safe for kids. That is a very noble objective. I have no issue with supervised high risk sex offenders being prohibited from certain areas of the Internet. I have also no issue with registered sex offenders, particularly those under supervision, being required to disclose their e-mail and Internet identifiers to law enforcement and their supervision officers. However, Massachusetts the wholesale expansion of these disclosures to the general public seems a bit problematic.
If Massachusetts passes their law and provides for public disclosure, it will only impact sex offenders in their state. There is no way a Massachusetts resident could check a questionable e-mail on any of the other states sex offender registrations. Many states simply haven’t mandated disclosing Internet identifiers. As of July 27, 2011, only 14 states, nine tribes and one territory have substantially implemented Title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (SORNA). Ironically, only Louisiana of the states noted above has substantially implemented SORNA. So even if Massachusetts does provide for public disclosure of sex offender’s Internet identifiers, there are countless registered sex offenders whose Internet information are not even in the database.
By the way, Massachusetts is bordered by states Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, none of which have substantially implemented SORNA. New York prohibits sex offenders on social networking sites but their disclosure of Internet identifiers is limited to social networking sites. SORNA regulations explicitly prohibit public disclosure via the public registry websites (other “avenues” of public disclosure are however not prohibited). In short, even if a state collects Internet identifiers, that does not translate into easy public access.
So Massachusetts I am having a bit of trouble understanding what public disclosure will do for you. Sure your parents would be able to check an e-mail against the registry to make sure it isn’t a local sex offender communicating with their son or daughter. But what about that sex offender in a border state or the non-complaint sex offender in your own state? If you enact your law it will be like giving your residents a Massachusetts telephone directory to look up a pizza delivery telephone number in California (hold the anchovies please). If I were in Massachusetts would I feel safer for my kids if this law gets passed? More to the point, would they be safer? Very doubtful.
Oh Missouri don’t think I missed you in this legislative outing. Missouri is now restricting teachers from having contact with their students via social networking sites. One justification sited for this a Associated Press investigation that revealed sexual misconduct through social networking avenues were six times more prevalent than those from the priesthood scandals. Missouri is 11th worst state in the nation for teacher sexual misconduct with students. The law means teachers can’t communicate freely with their students online. Luckily, they didn’t prohibit teachers in the classroom too. Hopefully, the final regulations that result from this will be less than wholesale censorship, particularly with individuals who haven’t been charged with any law violations.
Don’t get me wrong. I know there are risks associated with being online and we need to protect our citizens. Again, I have no issue with requiring sex offenders report all their Internet identifiers, which can be used by law enforcement and corrections. I also have no problem with limiting and monitoring offender’s Internet activities while under supervision. I would also like to see more Internet safety and ethics being taught in our schools. Probably the best way to make your kids safe is to be involved and know what they are doing both in the real world and in cyberspace. I also like it when a state like Louisiana, provides an exception to one of their new laws dealing with these restrictions. This allows us in the “real world” to tailor are risk management efforts.
I have never been fond of a one size fits all approach. Tailor the law to the need. Don’t make it too big or too small. Our laws need to be based upon some rational basis beyond a good “sound bite” on the television news. I know I am asking a lot and I am going to ask for more. Before a legislature passes one of these feel goods laws consider how it is going to be enforced and provide training and resources to get it enforced right. For now one last request. Where is that cigar I put down?
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