Minnesota lawmakers are considering legislation this session that would bar sex offenders from accessing social networking sites like MySpace, the online community where young people are way too casual about sharing their personal information.
The bill is similar to one in the New York State Assembly that would would force sexual predators to register their instant messaging screen names and enable sites like MySpace and Facebook to block their access.
But how can this sort of legislation be enforced? Sexual offenders might change usernames or e-mail addresses to cover their tracks.
According to Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, who authored the House bill, someone would have to report the sex offender being on MySpace first. Alternately, probation officers — and others — would have authority under the bill to enter a sex offender’s home without a warrant, confiscate the computer, and have it checked to see if they’ve been on MySpace or other social networking site.
There are an estimated 15,000 sex offenders in Minnesota. Various “reports” have said MySpace has between 29,000 and 32,000 registered sex offenders as users. Attorneys general from 49 states — including Minnesota — forced an agreement from MySpace earlier this year to heighten security. It pledged to default user profiles of 16- and 17-year-olds to a private category, and purge sex offenders from its service.
But that moves comes a year after a similar promise by MySpace to clean its membership of sexual predators.
There is, as Nate Anderson of Ars Technica pointed out back then, a huge flaw in the approach.
Without federal legislation requiring sex offenders to register e-mail addresses, the entire scheme falls apart. How else will MySpace match user accounts against their new database? Using names? If we assume that there is not a complete overlap between the “total moron” population and the “sex offender” population, it immediately becomes obvious that sex offenders are not going to sign up to a site like MySpace using their real names.
Then again, maybe the Spitzer case will be in the game, now that the New York Times has discovered who Client 9’s hooker was.