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MySpace to turn over sex-offender data after all

The Complying Game

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Under growing pressure to do more to protect underage members, MySpace has agreed to give state authorities details about registered sex offenders known to have been users. The decision, announced Monday, resolves last week's standoff in which the News Corp.-owned site refused to turn over the data because law enforcement officials hadn't followed the required legal process.

Since then, attorneys general from Connecticut and other states updated last Monday's letter demanding the information with legal subpoenas, and MySpace has agreed to comply. According to the Associated Press, the information will include the names and other details of 7,000 MySpace profiles the site has removed after linking them to people convicted of sex crimes.

"Our subpoena compels this information right away - within hours not weeks, without delay - because it is vital to protecting children," Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal said. "Many of these sex offenders may have violated their parole or probation by contacting or soliciting children on MySpace."

According to North Carolina AG Roy Cooper - who along with Blumenthal is leading a group of 50 states calling on MySpace to do more to protect children - news accounts from last year reported more than 100 criminal incidents of adults using MySpace "to prey or attempt to prey on children." Earlier this month, North Carolina authorities arrested a man for soliciting a child on the social networking site.

In December, MySpace hired Sentinel Tech Holdings, a company that provides online identity verification services, to help block sexual predators from using the site. "Sentinel Safe" aggregates information from all public data bases of registered sex offenders and cross references it against MySpace users.

Last week, Blumenthal, Cooper and AGs from six other states sent a MySpace attorney a letter demanding officials turn over the information. MySpace promptly refused, saying the demand lacked elements required under the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

With the filing of the required subpoenas, MySpace has agreed to supply the names, email addresses and IP addresses of all convicted sex offenders who have set up a profile on the site. While MySpace has deleted all accounts established by people confirmed to have been convicted of such crimes, it has retained all the vital information so it can comply with the subpoenas.

While a step in the right direction, Monday's accord only goes so far. The information won't concern sex offenders who aren't registered or are using aliases on the site. Only honest offenders are likely to get caught in the net, it would seem. Offenders who have fibbed while registering their profile can easily slip by, at least for now.

State authorities plan to use the information with various law enforcement agencies so they can look for parole violations by offenders who have been barred from using computers or contacting minors.

The use of MySpace by registered sex offenders is only one of a litany of abuses critics have heaped on the social networking site. Other complaints include MySpace's liberal rules for the use of javascript, which in the past has allowed users to infect visitors' machines with malware. Also an issue is the growing prevalence of spam in MySpace Groups, much of which redirects users to scatological porn sites so shocking and vile they aren't fit for adult viewing let alone viewing by children.

The state AGs have been calling on MySpace to do more to protect children from such threats. Among other things, they have urged MySpace to raise the age requirement for members from 14 years old to 16 and to verify both the age and identify of its users. ®

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