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States Limit Social Networking Use: Good or Bad?
By Art Bowker, Cybercrime Specialist
Published: 08/15/2011

Yes or no 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:
  • The Massachusetts legislature is contemplating a bill to make registered sex offender’s email addresses and online Identifiers available to the public at large.
  • In June, Louisiana passed a law prohibiting offenders convicted of certain sex offenses against a minor from using social networking sites, although probation and parole officers and judges can make exceptions.
  • New York passed a law in 2008, which requires sex offenders disclose screen names and e-mail addresses during registration. This information is then forwarded to two dozen social networking sites which then block the offenders. Since its enactment it is credited with removing 24,000 sex offenders from Internet social networking sites nationwide.
  • North Carolina, in 2008 prohibited all sex offenders from social networking sites used by minors.
  • Illinois in 2009 enacted a prohibition against registered sex offenders using a social-networking service defined as an “Internet website containing profile web pages…that include the names or nicknames of such members, photographs…or any other personal or personally identifying information.”

Louisiana’s approach on it face, seems much more “tailored” than the other states mentioned. New York, at least by the numbers noted, is being successful in removing sex offenders from social networking sites. The questions though are these sex offenders staying off and are there less sex crimes being committed in New York with a social networking aspect as a result. I would like to know.

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?

Visit "The Three C's (Computers, Crime & Corrections)" blog by Art Bowker

Other articles by Bowker:


Comments:

  1. R2D2 on 08/13/2019:

    Well, I believe that social networking use is a private business of any person. Yeah, you have to pay attention to what you post. For instance, if you write somewhere your postal code then on this webpage you can find an address.

  2. computerpo on 10/07/2011:

    Well JohnDoe you followed up where Rudy101 didn't. You gave me a state and a reference. Okay, so one state OK can charge for providing this information. I will take your word that more states are out there. But, do you really think there is a huge market out there? Those wanting to buy it have to justify why they want it. Per your own site they can only sell it to an Internet entity. I would assume that would be someone line Facebook, MySpace or an ISP.... You or Rudy101 could not go buy it and buy it with your pensions or other income you have. Do you think the states are making millions on this? If it covers the costs of gathering it I would be surprised. Additionally,once the entity gets it they can't disclose it once they obtain it. That is in the citation you provided. Okay, I concede that they sell it but I don't concede they (the states) are making a profit or this is a business making venture for the states. The fees, like most things states charge are suppose to be related to the costs... Of course in these times maybe they will start charging a bit more. But then again, how many of these entities are going to buy it? They can't disclose it to others. Also, JohnDoe, you are correct... I should not assume that you and Rudy101 are sick, in jail or worse. I realize you two spend your hours looking for news articles and then post on sex offender reg and alas, my small commentary on the topic has not got your attention of late. Oh well. Take care

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  4. JohnDoeUtah on 09/03/2011:

    Art, I find it hilarious that how if any of us don't respond to your B.S. from time to time you think we got arrested or something. Seriously, Art, comeon! What Rudy is saying is true, many state and even the federal government, collect internet identifiers and then sell them to entitities that request that information (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, Google, etc.) 57 O.S. 584 (Oklamhoma) states "I. The Department of Corrections shall, upon the request of any Internet entity, release to such entity any information required pursuant to paragraph 9 of subsection A of this section or paragraph 5 of subsection D of this section that would enable the Internet entity to prescreen or remove sex offenders from its services or, in conformity with state and federal law, advise law enforcement or other governmental entities of potential violations of law or threats to public safety. Before releasing information to an Internet entity the Department shall require an Internet entity that requests information to submit to the Department the name, address and telephone number of such entity and the specific legal nature and corporate status of such entity. Except for the purposes specified in this subsection, an Internet entity shall not publish or in any way disclose or redisclose any information provided to it by the Department pursuant to this subsection. The Department shall update any information released pursuant to this subsection on a monthly basis to ensure that the information of every individual that has been removed from the sex offender registry in this state is no longer released pursuant to this subsection. The Department may charge the Internet entity a fee for access to information pursuant to this subsection." So, yes, states sell access to internet identifiers to private companies. Oklahoma is not the only state that does this either.

  5. computerpo on 08/16/2011:

    First, Rudy101 how the heck are you? I haven't seen you post of "wisdom" and though maybe you were ill or got arrested or something. Anyway, welcome back. Second, you are going to have to cite your source. Specifically, who told you... "When the Government collects this information....."they sell the information." Oh and the 1st Amendment, as sacred as it is, can be limited. For instance, you can't yell fire in a crowded theater. But more to the point, states can limit the rights of those under correctional supervision. Note, I wrote "correctional supervision"... not just those on the registration. So far, requiring disclosure of Internet identifiers has not overturned...making it public is another thing. But Rudy101, please give me the source of how the Govt is selling Internet identifiers...I would like to know that one.

  6. Rudy101 on 08/15/2011:

    The 1st amendment is quite clear, the government cannot restrict freedom of speech. When a sentence has been completed, that is all the government gets. When the government collects this information, they do not use it to monitor offenders, they sell the information for the express purpose of banishing people from the internet based upon the unproven, bald assertion that a person is dangerous.


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