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MySpace, the hugely popular social networking website, is quickly becoming a decidedly unfriendly place for lurking sex offenders.
In the first two weeks of May, MySpace eliminated the profiles of about 7,000 registered sex offenders, according to a USA Today report. The same article quoted Mike Angus, chief counsel for MySpace and its parent company, Fox Interactive Media, stating more registered offenders have been purged since then. However, Angus declined to say how many more have had their profiles withdrawn.
There are about 600,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. The 7,000 or so initially identified represent slightly more than one per cent of the total, a TechNewsWorld report states. However, the identities and ages of MySpace users are not verified so there could be more offenders using the site. MySpace has about 175 million users, according to TechNewsWorld. Many of its users are in their teens and are drawn to it by the large number of bands posting profiles and its social networking component. Lawmakers and law enforcement have realized sites like MySpace can be dangerous for young people.
In Connecticut, a convicted sex offender was arrested for allegedly violating his parole by posting a MySpace profile. In fact, Christopher Montefusco, 31, had two different profiles of himself on the site, according to the website of WTNH TV. The conditions of Montefusco's parole state he cannot use a computer, the Internet or access social networking sites without first receiving permission from his parole officer. He has served two and a half years in prison for first-degree sexual assault for a 1996 crime and has two years of what is described as special parole remaining.
Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry recently signed into law a bill that restricts the Internet activity of registered sex offenders, according to an Associated Press report. The new law allows a judge to prohibit offenders from accessing social networking sites and gives the courts the power to mandate the registering of email address and other Internet identification information.
The desire to stop sexual predators has caused MySpace to straddle the line between assuring users of their privacy and protecting young people. On May 14, eight state attorney generals requested information about the sex offenders who had profiles pulled. Some of these offenders are on parole. MySpace spokespersons stated it could not provide that information unless required to by law. Subpoenas were drawn up and such information as names and addresses have been provided. However, the company, according to a June 5 report from the Reuters news service, has not yet sent along email correspondence to the attorney generals. This is because of its concern about a federal law that prevents Internet service providers from providing this without a search warrant. The Reuters article states obtaining a search warrant can be difficult when dealing with an offender who is not under investigation.
MySpace has filed a request in Pennsylvania state court seeking guidance on how it can legally provide these addresses.
"The resolution is seen as a test case for how U.S. authorities and New Corp's MySpace can co-operate in sharing information without violating federal law," the Reuters article read.
Last year MySpace contracted background verification company Sentinel Tech Holdings to create a national database of registered sex offenders. That database, called Sentinel SAFE, then was used to locate registered offenders among MySpace users and weed them out.
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