2008-02-07 / Other News

Albany Bill Would Protect New Yorkers From Internet Sex Predators

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last week announced the introduction of the nation's most comprehensive legislation to dramatically enhance protections for New Yorkers, especially children, from sexual predators on the Internet.

Assemblyman Alan Maisel, who represents parts of Canarsie and surrounding communities, quickly announced his support of the measure.

The new and comprehensive Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP), introduced by the legislative leaders at the request of Attorney General Cuomo, establishes vital protections against sexual predators so that users of the Internet - especially children - can more safely surf the Web. The legislation will restrict certain sex offenders' use of the Internet and updates Megan's Law for the Internet age.

"With the Internet, sexual predators have found an ideal tool to prey on the innocent with anonymity," Cuomo said. "While government has enacted dramatic protections from sex offenders in recent years, existing laws have not kept pace with the rapid advances in technology."

Bruno said, "This measure will ensure greater protections for kids, more control for parents and more tools for law enforcement to better police the Internet and protect people from being victimized."

"Imposing reasonable and appropriate Internet restrictions on all convicted sex offenders required to register under Megan's law will help make the Internet safer for everyone," added Silver.

Maisel said, "The Internet can be a wonderful tool for learning and communication, but the appropriate safeguards must be in place to keep it safe for children and others. This legislation takes an important step in shielding them from dangerous predators."

The Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act - called "e-STOP" - mandates that sex offenders register Internet accounts and screen names used for social networking purposes with law enforcement; allows social networking Web sites to access sex offender Internet information in order to prevent offenders from preying on children and report violations of law to investigators; and regulates use of the Internet by certain sex offenders on probation and parole.

Current laws are not enough to protect children and keep sexual offenders from misusing the Internet. In fact, recent investigations have found tens of thousands of sex offenders had signed onto at least one of the most popular social networking sites. Far too often, sexual predators use the Internet to commit crimes against children.

Passage of the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act would enable New York to combat the increasing misuse of the Internet. It would require sex offenders to register their e-mail 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 prescreen and block access by convicted sex offenders.

Ernie Allen, President of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said, "We are grateful to Attorney General Cuomo and New York legislative leaders for the introduction of this vital, bipartisan legislation."

Sex offenders have been shown to have recidivism rates far higher than those who commit other types of crimes.

According to the state Division for Criminal Justice Services, there are nearly 25,000 registered sex offenders in the state.

Under the bill:

•All sex offenders who are required to register under Megan's Law must register with the Division of Criminal Justice Services all Internet accounts and provide all electronic mail addresses and designations used for the purposes of chatting, instant messaging, social networking or other similar Internet communications;

•Registered sex offenders must notify DCJS within 10 days if that data changes, or face the current penalties under Megan's Law for failing to register; and

•Sex offenders' Internet information will be available to social networking Web sites which are authorized to prescreen or remove offenders' and advise law enforcement if there is a potential violation of law or a threat to public safety.

Last spring, Cuomo worked with other state attorneys general and MySpace, a popular social networking site, to share with law enforcement authorities the identities of registered sex offenders who they had found and removed from the site. In October, the Attorney General and the popular online community Facebook announced a new model to enforce safeguards aimed at protecting its network members, especially children and adolescents, from sexual predators, obscene content and harassment.

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