8 states seek sex offender data from MySpace.com

Published 6:55 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Top law enforcement officers from eight states on Monday asked MySpace.com to turn over the names of registered sex offenders who use the social networking Web site.

In a letter, the attorneys general asked MySpace to provide information on how many registered sex offenders are using the site, and where they live. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper signed the letter, along with attorneys general from Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In a statement, Cooper’s office said media outlets in 2006 “reported almost 100 criminal incidents across the country involving adults who used MySpace to prey or attempt to prey on children.”

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In December, MySpace announced it was partnering with Sentinel Tech Holding Corp. to build a database with information on sex offenders in the United States. Software to identify and remove sex offenders from the site was launched in early May, MySpace officials said Monday in a statement.

“It is our understanding that the data from Sentinel reveals that thousands of known sex offenders have been confirmed as MySpace members,” the letter from the attorneys general said.

In an interview, Cooper said the information was provided by “absolutely credible” sources, whom he declined to identify.

The attorneys general also asked that MySpace describe the steps it has taken to warn users about sex offenders and remove their profiles. They asked the Web site to respond to their requests by May 29.

“They are by far the largest social networking site,” Cooper said. “They certainly should be the standard bearer for changes that need to be made.”

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called the site a “virtual playground” for predators. “That combination of sex offenders and children is a recipe for tragedy,” Blumenthal said.

The site is owned by media conglomerate News Corp. On Monday, MySpace did not say whether it would comply with the request.

“We are in the initial stages of cross referencing our membership against Sentinel’s registered sex offender database and removing any confirmed matches,” Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace’s chief security officer, said in a statement.

Nigam also said legislation requiring sex offenders to register e-mail addresses would expedite the process.

MySpace’s policy prevents children under 14 from setting up profiles, but it relies on users to specify their ages.

Cooper said MySpace should confirm ages though services used by online vendors of lottery tickets and alcohol, and require parental permission for young users.

“MySpace can certainly take its own action to remove those sex offender profiles from their site,” Cooper said. “They say they are doing that but we want to know … exactly what steps they are taking.”

Cooper has presented legislation to the North Carolina General Assembly that would make it a felony for registered sex offenders to use social networking sites.

In North Carolina last year, a former sheriff’s deputy was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted of molesting a 15-year-old boy he met on MySpace, and a Boiling Spring Lakes police officer was charged with the statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl he communicated with on the site, Cooper said.

MySpace and other social networking sites allow users to create online profiles with photos, music and personal information, including hometowns and education. Users can send messages to one another and, in many cases, browse other profiles.