Social Networking

AGs Take Steps to Evict Predators From MySpace

Attorneys general in eight states announced Monday that they have sent a letter to MySpace requesting information about sex offenders using the site.

Last December, MySpace said it had hired Sentinel Tech Holdings to check the site for registered sex offenders. That search uncovered thousands of offenders with MySpace profiles, according to Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

“There should be an urgent alert to anyone in contact with these sex offenders,” Blumenthal said. “We’re demanding that MySpace tell us the number of convicted sex offenders, their names and where they live.”

‘A Playground for Predators’

The letter from Blumenthal, along with the attorneys general from Georgia, Idaho, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and New Hampshire, also asks how many sex offender profiles have been removed, if any, and what steps MySpace has taken to alert law enforcement and users who communicated with the offenders.

“Convicted sex offenders have no place on MySpace,” Blumenthal noted. “MySpace is more than a place for friends to meet. It’s a playground for predators seeking to prey [on] children.”

MySpace, which has been widely criticized for failing to keep online predators away from its users, agrees with the attorneys general “that keeping bad people out of good places on the Internet is a challenge and a priority,” said Hemanshu Nigam, the company’s chief security officer. “It requires a commitment to develop new technologies and build tight collaborations between companies, law enforcement and policy makers.”

MySpace earlier this month launched software to proactively identify and remove any known sex offenders from the site. The company is in the initial stages of cross-referencing its membership against Sentinel Tech Holdings’ registered sex offender database and removing confirmed matches, Nigam said.

“Mandatory sex offender e-mail registration legislation — which is now being considered at the federal level and in several states, and is supported by leading experts — would significantly expedite this process and help keep sex offenders off our sites,” Nigam added.

Pending Legislation

The families of five teenage girls who were sexually assaulted by people they met through MySpace sued its parent company, News Corp., earlier this year on the grounds that the company does not do enough to protect members from predators. One was dismissed by a Texas court in February, but the others are still pending.

Blumenthal and other Connecticut lawmakers introduced legislation in March to require social networking sites such as MySpace to verify users’ ages and obtain parental consent for minors who want to post profiles.

“This mounting graphic evidence shows the need for age verification, parental permission and a higher minimum threshold at 16, as we have repeatedly requested,” Blumenthal said.

The states participating in the letter to MySpace are members of the executive committee for the group of all 50 states pressing MySpace to make the site safer for children. Blumenthal and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper are the leaders of the group.

The attorneys general asked MySpace to respond by May 29.

A Tough Call

“This is definitely an interesting situation for MySpace,” Sean Kane, an attorney with Drakeford & Kane, told TechNewsWorld.

It would be within MySpace’s rights, according to the company’s privacy policy, to provide the information to the attorneys general, Kane said. At the same time, the way the letter is worded, MySpace would also be within its rights to ignore it. In that case, however, the attorneys general could follow up with a subpoena and possibly legal action, Kane explained.

“MySpace is going to need to determine what they are really asking for,” Kane said. “Certain attorneys general will send requests for a wide array of information, when they may be able to get by with limited information. MySpace will have to balance its need to provide this information with its other need to protect its own users.”

“This is a difficult one to call,” Paul Stephens, policy analyst with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, told TechNewsWorld.

“We’re advocates for privacy, and in a situation like this, at least in theory, sex offenders are entitled to the same privacy as everyone else,” Stephens said. “But it’s definitely a tough one.”

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