Va. to track sex offender e-mail addresses, IM names

Office of the Virginia Attorney General

Virginia’s attorney general said Dec. 11 that he will propose new legislation requiring convicted sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses and instant messaging screen names with the state’s sex offender registry.

Under the proposal, law enforcement agencies would allow social networking Web sites, such as MySpace, to access a new database of e-mail addresses and IM names to monitor users. If such sites find a registered sex offender’s e-mail address or IM name, they can ban or block that person. Virginia is the first state to propose such a measure, officials said.

“We require all sex offenders to register their physical and mailing addresses in Virginia, but in the 21st century, it is just as critical that they register any e-mail addresses or IM screen names,” Attorney General Bob McDonnell said in a press release.

“This is not a foolproof approach, as we all fully realize how easy it is to get new e-mail addresses,” he added. “But by requiring registration and by making the penalties for failure to register the same as those for failure to register physical and mailing addresses, we will take another positive step toward protecting children online.”

In a prepared statement, Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace’s chief security officer, said the state’s proposal is “an important recognition that the Internet has become a community as real as any other neighborhood and is in need of similar safeguards. Its passage will be a landmark moment in the history of Internet safety.”

The company has been pushing for federal legislation requiring sex offenders to register all their e-mail addresses in a national database.

Last week, MySpace and Sentinel Tech Holding Corp., an online identity and background verification company, also announced the development of a national real-time and searchable sex offender database of 550,000 registered sex offenders. The database would contain detailed background data, such as name, age, physical description and distinguishing features.

Virginia’s proposal is one component of an initiative developed by a 40-member task force, which has been meeting since July to improve Internet safety for children. The task force includes elected officials, law enforcement officers, educators, students, children’s advocates and several representatives from the technology industry, including MySpace, America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo.

Sarkar is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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