Measure would ban sex offenders from Facebook, MySpace

March 2, 2010 6:45:02 PM PST
Registered sex offenders in California may soon be barred from using social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris is sponsoring legislation she believes will protect children from predators.

If it becomes law, registered sex offenders in California would face jail time if they are caught on social networking websites. But, critics say the question really is, "How will those predators be caught?"

Most everyone agrees, young people are vulnerable to those they meet online, especially sex offenders.

"These young people are disclosing a lot about themselves and they are developing relationships of trust with perfect strangers," Harris says.

San Francisco's District Attorney Kamala Harris is behind the bill proposed by Assemblywoman Norma Torres of Los Angeles County that would ban registered sex offenders from using social networking sites.

"There is so much going on in kids utilizing technology, social networking sites, that we don't really know all the ways in which we can better protect kids, but this is a good first step," says Debbie Lee, with the Family Violence Prevention Fund.

The most obvious question is, "How will it be enforced?"

Harris says, "The way you enforce it, is you enforce it as we do as the lieutenant talked about, in terms of figuring out and responding to tips, responding to information that we receive," says.

"We are inviting you to tell us, to tell your parents of what is happening to you when you are on the internet," says Torres.

Chris Kelly was chief counsel for Facebook, which four years ago banned registered sex offenders from the site. Like Harris, Kelly is running for attorney general. He says California needs a more comprehensive law like the one New York has.

"What we need to do is require offenders to provide more information to the state so that sites can do it more effectively," he says.

Kelly helped New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office draft the 2008 law called the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators act known as "e-STOP." New York requires that all registered sex offenders must provide their e-mail addresses, site usernames and online profiles.

In New York, the information provided by a sex offender is then turned over to those companies that run social networking sites and it is another felony if they are caught.