Attorney General Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno And Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Announce Bill To Protect New Yorkers From Sex Predators On The Internet

ALBANY, NY (January 29, 2008) - Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced today the introduction of the nation’s most comprehensive legislation to dramatically enhance protections for New Yorkers, especially children, from sexual predators on the Internet.

The new and comprehensive Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP), introduced by the legislative leaders at the request of Attorney General Cuomo, establishes vital protections against sexual predators so that users of the Internet - especially children - can more safely surf the Web. The legislation will restrict certain sex offenders’ use of the Internet and updates Megan’s Law for the Internet age

“We have seen far too many times that in the hands of a sexual predator the Internet can pose a clear and present danger to New York’s most vulnerable,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “With the Internet, sexual predators have found an ideal tool to prey on the innocent with anonymity. While government has enacted dramatic protections from sex offenders in recent years, existing laws have not kept pace with the rapid advances in technology.”

Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said, “The Internet and popular social networking sites are the playground of choice for many young people, and for sexual predators. This measure will ensure greater protections for kids, more control for parents and more tools for law enforcement to better police the Internet and protect people from being victimized. I commend Attorney General Cuomo and Senator Dean Skelos for their work on this important issue.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “In the past, protecting our children seemed as simple as locking doors and windows, knowing where they were at all times and reminding them not to talk to strangers. Sadly, today’s advanced world of Internet-driven social networking, technology has unleashed a world where danger and evil lurk behind the relative anonymity granted its users. Imposing reasonable and appropriate Internet restrictions on all convicted sex offenders required to register under Megan’s law will help make the Internet safer for everyone.”

Current laws are not enough to protect children and keep sexual offenders from misusing the Internet. In fact, recent investigations have found tens of thousands of sex offenders had signed onto at least one of the most popular social networking sites. Far too often, sexual predators use the Internet to commit crimes against children.

Passage of the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act would enable New York to combat the increasing misuse of the Internet. It would require sex offenders to register their email addresses, instant message screen names and any other online identifiers, and would give access to that information to online social networking companies. Those sites would then be able to prescreen and block access by convicted sex offenders.

Sen. Dean Skelos said, “The Internet has become a playground for sexual predators. Since its enactment, we've continually worked to strengthen Megan's Law and adapt it to changing technology. This new legislation will help prevent dangerous sex offenders from hiding behind a veil of anonymity and preying upon our children online. With Attorney General Cuomo’s strong support, I’m optimistic that this important measure will be enacted as soon as possible.”

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol said, “We have a whole generation of kids that will grow up communicating with each other via social networking sites. It’s a communication practice that is here to stay and we need to establish better safety protocols that shield our children from predators. This legislation will do that by requiring conditions of Parole and Probation that restrict sex offender use of social network sites and enhances our criminal justice agencies monitoring procedures. I have always believed that more intensive supervision of these offenders is the best way to protect the public. This bill accomplishes that.”

Ernie Allen, President of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said “There are more than 627,000 registered sex offenders in the United States today, many of whom use the relative anonymity of the Internet to seek access to potential child victims. We are grateful to Attorney General Cuomo and New York legislative leaders for the introduction of this vital, bipartisan legislation.”

Sex offenders have been shown to have recidivism rates far higher than those who commit other types of crimes.

According to the state Division for Criminal Justice Services, there are nearly 25,000 registered sex offenders in the state.

  • 9,565 are level 2 registered sex offenders (moderate risk to commit another sex crime).
  • 6,515 are level 3 registered sex offenders (high risk to commit another sex crime and a threat to public safety exists).
  • The Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators (e-STOP) Act:
  • Requires that sex offenders register all of their Internet accounts and Internet identifiers (email 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 (email addresses and designations used for chat, instant messaging, social networking or other similar Internet communication) to social networking sites and certain other online services, that 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 web sites, 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.

Attorney General Cuomo has led recent groundbreaking efforts to protect users of the Internet from sexual predators.

Last spring, he worked with other state attorneys general and MySpace, a popular social networking site, to share with law enforcement authorities the identities of registered sex offenders who they had found and removed from the site.

In October, Attorney General Cuomo and the popular online community Facebook announced a new model to enforce safeguards aimed at protecting its network members, especially children and adolescents, from sexual predators, obscene content and harassment. The agreement was reached after serious deficiencies were found in the site’s safety controls and investigators posing as young teenagers were sent online sexual advances from adults within days of setting up their accounts.

Both MySpace and Facebook, with tens of millions of users each, have taken significant steps to protect their users and supported efforts to create new laws protecting all Internet users from sexual predators. Attorney General Cuomo applauds their initiative in taking industry leadership roles with respect to protecting the online community. Both sites have agreed to use the new registry information to block sex offenders from the sites. Real reform can only happen with the change in the law.

MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam said, “We applaud Attorney General Cuomo’s leadership, both on this legislation and on the development of precedent-setting social networking safety principles in which MySpace and 50 state Attorneys General recently joined. This bill complements technology we’ve already put in place to remove registered sex offenders from our community and is a comprehensive approach to protecting Internet users from predators. We look forward to continuing our work with Attorney General Cuomo to make the Internet a safer place.”

Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly said, “The e-STOP Act will enhance Facebook's existing use of technology and social rules to build a safer and more trusted environment for its users. We applaud the leadership of Attorney General Cuomo, Majority Leader Bruno, and Speaker Silver in introducing such effective legislation in the effort to protect kids online."

Tracy Schmaler, Yahoo’s Director of Global Public Affairs, said, “Yahoo! supports the Attorney General's efforts to give judges additional discretion to limit the ability of convicted sex offenders to access the Internet. We look forward to working with the Attorney General's office on online safety legislation."

Attorney General Cuomo has also advised parents to take preventive steps to keep their children safe and issued tips on How to Occupy Space on Social Networking Websites Safely:

Be cautious about sharing your personal information online that can be used to locate you offline. This includes your screen name, personal photos, hobbies, social security numbers, address, phone number, bank or credit card number, and for children, the schools they attend. Remember, websites for underage users are not permitted to request personal information without a parent's permission.

Do not share information online that you would not share offline - There are no “Takebacks.” Once information is posted online, it cannot be removed. If deleted or modified, older versions continue to exist online. Share information that is appropriate for the public. Remember, colleges and potential employers may rely on a social networking website to check you out.

Use Privacy Settings to restrict access. Social networking websites provide a variety of privacy settings that can restrict access to personal information. These settings block unknown individuals from breaking into your account and misusing your profile and information.

Install safeguarding programs with monitoring or filtering capabilities. Your online service provider may offer these services. Setting up a monitoring product is like a having a camera in the corner of your local bank - it can help collect evidence for law enforcement and trace a predator, if necessary.

Watch out for unsolicited messages and emails. Do not respond to emails or download attachments you are not expecting. Some viruses can “spoof” the name and email address of friends and fool users into an unwanted online relationship.

Beware of inappropriate or threatening online behavior. Risky online behavior can lead to cyber crimes. It may start with an online stranger following you into chat rooms, breaking into your account, abusing your personal information, sending you sexual solicitations or signing you up for porn sites and IM. Pay attention to these predators. Websites do not have the capability to verify ages or information of their users.

If in doubt, report it! If you believe that a predator is communicating with you or your child, you must report it. In every case where a child is molested or killed by an Internet sexual predator, law enforcement find messages sent to the predator by parents threatening to report them. Do not hesitate to report it.