A concerted attempt is on in the US to rein in sexual offenders misusing popular networking sites and thus make the internet safer for everyone.
Social networking sites allow users to create online profiles with photos, music and personal information, and let them send messages to one another and, in many cases, browse other profiles.
The hugely popular MySpace had initially balked when attorneys general from eight states demanded data on registered sex offenders, but it has now given in.
The law officers wanted information on how many such offenders were using the site and where they live.
But the company stalled saying the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act required the states to file a subpoena or similar legal request before it could release the data.
MySpace, owned by media conglomerate News Corp., obtained the data from Sentinel Tech Holding Corp. The companies partnered in December to build a database with information on sex offenders in the United States, and it said it had already removed about 7,000 profiles out of a total of about 180 million.
The companies "developed 'Sentinel Safe' from scratch because there was no means to weed (sexual predators) out and get them off of our site," company's counsel Mike Angus said.
It was the Sentinel data that the attorneys general were of North Carolina, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania were requisitioning.
Quickly responding to MySpace's legal quibbling, North Carolina filed a civil investigative demand, and states including Ohio, New York and Connecticut also pursued subpoenas. Blumenthal said his subpoena "compels this information right away — within hours, not weeks, without delay — because it is vital to protecting children." "Many of these sex offenders may have violated their parole or probation by contacting or soliciting children on MySpace," Blumenthal said.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said his office will also subpoena the records.
"I think once we find out the content of the messages — of course, it will depend on how long they retain that information — we may very well find that some of the messages included illegal enticement of a child," Hood said.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said the information from the Sentinel system could potentially be used to look for parole violations or help in investigations. He said lawmakers in North Carolina are considering legislation that would further restrict access to social networking Web sites, including one that would require parents' permission for minors to set up a profile Realizing stalling would do no good for its image, MySpace seems to be coming round. Its counsel Angus revealed company officials met with North Carolina and Connecticut Attorneys General to sort out the details of those requests.
"We hope to get requests from every state," he said. "From day one, we have preserved all the information in the hopes of getting these requests."
Angus said the company hoped to have data moving by Monday afternoon. "We're going to get most of it out today," he said. "We have zero tolerance for those creeps. We don't want them on our sites." The technology, which belongs to Sentinel Tech, can be used by other social networking sites, Angus said.
The company has also arranged for law enforcers to use the Sentinel software directly. Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, who filed a subpoena Friday, said sharing the information is a good first step toward enacting those kinds of protections.
"MySpace needs to do more, including implementing an effective age verification system that will make the site considerably safer," he warned.
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