Lawmakers Fight Online Sexual Predators

New York lawmakers proposed legislation on Tuesday that would provide new protection from convicted sex offenders hanging out on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

The bill would require sex offenders to register instant messaging and e-mail addresses, which would then be passed to social networking sites. The sites could then block access to the network by the sex offenders, an action MySpace and Facebook have said they’ll take.

Both Facebook and MySpace have been criticized for failing to do more to police their sites against sexual predators, particularly adults who prey on children and teenagers. The social networking sites have countered that they need stronger state and federal laws to keep out offenders.

“The Internet is great and affords us all sorts of opportunities and promise, but there are also perils on the Internet,” New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference to unveil the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act.

Under the law, Cuomo said, a number of sex offenders would be banned from using social networking sites altogether. The courts and parole board would have the ability to prohibit sex offenders who used the Internet to commit the crime or victimize a minor from accessing Facebook, MySpace or similar sites.

Cuomo called it “the most comprehensive, smartest, toughest law in the nation” related to social networking sites.

“Our laws need to keep up with our times,” said Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace’s chief security officer, who described the legislation as “a powerful new tool to protect our users.”

Along with Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced the proposed legislation at a press conference.

The announcement comes just two weeks after News Corp’s MySpace and 49 U.S. state attorneys general agreed on a broad set of guidelines for protecting youths on the Internet.

That agreement includes measures to develop an e-mail registry that would allow parents to prohibit their children from creating an online profile for the network.

And in October Facebook settled a child-safety probe in New York, agreeing to address any complaint within 24 hours of being told of inappropriate content — involving such things as nudity, profanity or harassment — by a user or e-mail correspondent.

Microsoft Corp owns a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook.

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