Friday, 25 December 2009 00:00
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced last week that 13 additional social networking sites, including those owned by Google, Yahoo! and AOL, have agreed to remove New York sex offenders from their sites. This comes in the wake of the attorney general’s announcement earlier this month that Facebook and MySpace – the two largest social networking sites – successfully removed over 3,500 sex offenders.
As of press time, 15 major social networking companies have agreed to use New York’s Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP), authored by Cuomo, to purge registered sex offenders from their sites. The law requires all registered sex offenders to register their email accounts, screen names and any other Internet identifiers with the state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). That information is then made available to social networking sites. Several other companies continue to ignore this critical measure to make the Internet safer.
“It is no secret that sexual predators abuse social networking websites to find and manipulate victims and to insinuate themselves into their victims’ lives,” said Cuomo. “e-STOP allows social networking websites to identify these sex predators and help prevent them from harming again. The country’s most popular social networking sites have taken an important step in making the Internet safer by using e-STOP to purge sex offenders from their sites. That some companies are continuing to ignore the e-STOP database is not only inexcusable, it is potentially dangerous.
On Dec. 1, Cuomo issued letters to 17 social networking websites urging them to take this important step toward protecting their users from sexual predators. To date, 12 of these websites – AOL’s Bebo.com. Google’s Orkut.com, Yahoo!’s Flickr.com, BlackPlanet.com, Classmates.com, Flixster.com, Fotolog.com, hi5.com, MyLife.com, Stickam.com and Tagged.com – have agreed to use e-STOP data from the state to find and disable accounts linked to registered sex offenders. Imeem.com was recently bought by MySpace and will also purge its network of New York Sex Offenders. Multiply.com, which did not receive a letter, has also requested the e-STOP data.
Information about the accounts will be shared with law enforcement authorities. Despite the proactive measures taken by the 15 sites so far, some other social networking websites continue to ignore the availability and utility of the e-STOP information, potentially allowing New York sex offenders to use their sites. Attorney General Cuomo calls on these remaining sites; Friendster.com, Buzznet.com, eSpin.com, Habbo.com, and LiveJournal.com, to commit to using the list. Before using these sites, consumers should ask the companies why they are refusing to purge sex offenders from their sites.
Laura A. Ahearn, LMSW, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center said: “The sheriff of cyberspace has done it again. Laws are only as good as those that enforce them and Attorney General Cuomo has proved himself time and again to be a formidable opponent of online sexual predators. Today’s continued efforts will provide increased peace of mind for both parents and kids.”
e-STOP, which was authored by Cuomo, went into effect last year, and was the first law of its kind requiring convicted sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses and other online identifiers with the New York State Sex Offender Registry, among other conditions. The law:
• Requires that sex offenders register all of their Internet accounts and Internet identifiers (e-mail addresses and designations used for chat, instant messaging, social networking, or other similar Internet communication) with the State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
• Authorizes the Division of Criminal Justice Services to release state sex offender Internet identifiers to social networking sites and certain other online services, which may be used to prescreen or remove sex offenders from using the site’s services and notify law enforcement authorities and other government officials of potential violations of law and threats to public safety.
• Requires, as a condition of probation or parole, mandatory restrictions on a sex offender’s access to the Internet where the offender’s victim was a minor, the Internet was used to commit the offense, or the offender was designated a level 3 (highest level) offender. Such offenders would be banned from accessing social networking websites, accessing pornographic materials, communicating with anyone for the purpose of promoting sexual relations with a minor and communicating, in most circumstances, with anyone under the age of 18.
The attorney general applauds Google (Orkut.com), Yahoo! (Flickr.com), AOL (Bebo.com), BlackPlanet.com, Classmates.com, Flixster.com, Fotolog.com, hi5.com, MyLife.com, Stickam.com, Multiply.com, Tagged.com and Imeem.com for their use of the e-STOP data and their demonstrated commitment to safety online.
Scott Rubin, spokesman for Google said: “Keeping the Internet safe for kids should be a partnership between industry, government, and the responsible adults in a child’s life. The e-STOP law is a fine example of that partnership. At Orkut, Google’s social networking site, we’re happy to do our part in cooperation with the state of New York.”
Yahoo! spokeswoman Nina Blackwell said, “Yahoo! has made it a company priority to provide a safe internet experience for everyone and we are pleased to partner with Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in these important efforts.”
Christopher Bubb, chief counsel for AOL, said, “We are pleased to work with the New York Attorney General’s office on this important online protection initiative. Our partnership underscores AOL’s commitment to creating the safest possible environment for our users.”
Michael Trigg, vice president of marketing at hi5, said, “Providing a safe online experience for our users is a top priority for hi5, and legislation like e-STOP is an important part of our overall online security efforts.”
Yossi Langer, co-president and chief product officer of Fotolog, said, “Fotolog has always welcomed the opportunity to make our site safer for our more than 28 million members. We look forward to working with the office of the attorney general to implement the e-STOP law.”
Louis Willacy, general counsel at Tagged, said, “Tagged is fiercely committed to ensuring social networks are safe places to meet new friends. Currently we are reviewing and taking action on approximately 950 potential offenders who have accounts on Tagged, most of whom are not active users. We are proud to support Attorney General Cuomo’s vital efforts.”
According to Steven Fruchter, CEO of Stickam.com, “As the first and largest social networking website to provide live-streaming video, Stickam has been at the forefront of addressing the inherent risks associated with live-streaming technology on the web. From employing site monitors to view live video streams and respond to reports of abuse around the clock, to manually approving all static media, we have made the safety of the Stickam community a top priority from day one. We welcome the e-STOP program as a useful and necessary tool in our continued efforts toward ensuring that Stickam remains safe for all users.”
Tom Newman, president of Interactive One, which owns BlackPlanet.com, said, “At Interactive One ensuring our member’s safety is our highest priority and initiatives such as these provide us with additional tools to ensure that safety.”
Attorney General Cuomo’s office and DCJS will continue to work with other law enforcement agencies, including state parole and probation officials, in taking appropriate action against sex offenders who violate their terms and conditions of release by accessing the Internet in prohibited ways.
Protecting children from online predators has been a priority for Cuomo. In 2008 every major Internet Service Provider including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, AOL, Sprint, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision agreed for the first time to block access to child porn Newsgroups, a major supplier of illegal images, and also to purge their servers of child pornography websites. In 2007, Cuomo reached a deal with Facebook to enforce new safeguards aimed at protecting its network members, especially children and adolescents, from sexual predators, obscene content, and harassment.
Also in 2007, Cuomo authored e-STOP, which was passed unanimously by the New York State Assembly and Senate and was signed into law in May 2008. e-STOP was the nation’s most comprehensive legislation aimed at protecting children from sexual predators. e-STOP has enabled social networking websites to identify accounts linked to sex offenders registered in New York State and Cuomo has been working with law enforcement authorities to investigate those registered sex offenders who were found on social networking websites in violation of the terms of their conditions of supervised release.
The attorney general’s e-STOP initiative is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Karen A. Geduldig and Darcy M. Goddard, under the supervision Special Deputy Chief of Staff Mitra Hormozi.