A.G. Schneiderman's "Operation: Game Over" Purges Thousands Of Sex Offenders From Online Video Game Networks

A.G. Schneiderman's "Operation: Game Over" Purges Thousands Of Sex Offenders From Online Video Game Networks

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that more than 3,500 accounts of New York registered sex offenders have been purged from online video game platforms as part of “Operation: Game Over,” a groundbreaking initiative with participation from Microsoft, Apple, Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Disney Interactive Media Group, Warner Brothers and Sony. The Attorney General’s database sweep is a first-of-its-kind effort to protect children from predators on video game networks in New York State.

“We must ensure online video game systems do not become a digital playground for dangerous predators. That means doing everything possible to block sex offenders from using gaming networks as a vehicle to prey on underage victims,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “I applaud all the companies participating in this first-of-its-kind initiative for taking online safety seriously and purging their networks of sex offenders. Together we are making the online community safer for our children, not allowing it to become a 21st century crime scene.”

Under New York State law, convicted sex offenders must register all of their e-mail addresses, screen names, and other Internet identifiers with the state, and that information is then made available to certain websites so they can purge potential predators from their online networks. After the Office of Attorney General approached gaming companies to remove registered sex offenders on their networks, the companies agreed to purge the accounts. Operation: Game Over is the first time the law has been applied to online video game systems.

According to the Pew Research Center, 97% of teens (12-17) play computer, web, portable, or console games and 27% of teens (12-17) play games online with people they don’t know.

Almost all video game consoles with online capabilities allow users to access the Internet and send messages to other players under anonymous screen names. Many popular games are specifically designed so that players must interact and play with each other. Games can have thousands of people – both children and adults – playing online at one time. Parents often do not realize that gaming consoles have these capabilities, or that parental controls exist for these systems. Password-protected “family settings” on many online gaming platforms allow parents to restrict Internet access, track content and monitor contacts.

As a result of Operation:Game Over, 3,580 accounts of New York state sex offenders have been purged – or their communication privileges suspended – from the gaming platforms owned by Microsoft, Apple, Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Warner Bros. and Disney Interactive Media Group. Sony was unable to provide the number expected to be purged by the date of this press release.

Operation:Game Over coincides with recent incidents of sexual predators using voice and text chat functions in online gaming services to lure underage victims across the country. Earlier this month, Richard Kretovic, a 19-year-old man from Monroe County, pled guilty to sexual abuse charges after meeting a 12-year-old boy on the popular online video game system Xbox LIVE. The man gained the boy’s trust over a period of three months, and then invited the boy over to his house where the abuse occurred, according to police.

Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorleyhailed Attorney General Schneiderman’s leadership in blocking sexual predators from using online gaming technology to prey on children.

“Attorney General Schneiderman’s leadership in removing sexual predators from online gaming systems has delivered real results. In Monroe County, we have seen dangerous people use gaming platforms to lure unsuspecting children,” said District Attorney Doorley. “As predators seek new ways to cause harm, Operation:Game Over provides a new shield to protect our families. I look forward to working with the Attorney General and all of our partners in law enforcement to make the Internet a safer, more secure place for children around the state.”

Crime victims’ advocates and online gaming companies also applauded the Attorney General’s initiative.

John Walsh, co-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and host of “America’s Most Wanted,”said, “We know that sex offenders target and lure children and how they look at the online community as their private, perverted hunting ground. I commend New York State Attorney General Schneiderman’s efforts to make gaming platforms safer for kids. This initiative is a strong model for other states, and it’s also a great partnership with private sector companies who are demonstrating their commitment to children’s safety.”

Rich Wallis, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Microsoft, said, “At Microsoft, we continually evaluate ways to manage safety for our 40 million Xbox LIVE members and particularly for children on our service. Our partnership with the Office of the New York Attorney General helps further this cause. By leveraging the online identity information all registered sex offenders are required to provide, we are able to help reduce potentially harmful situations. We’re supportive of Attorney General Schneiderman’s efforts to make the Internet, including online gaming environments like Xbox LIVE, safer for everyone.”

Laura A. Ahearn, L.M.S.W., Executive Director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, said, “I applaud these companies for taking online safety seriously and becoming pro-active rather than reactive to protect their most vulnerable online customers from online threats.”

Michael Polenberg, Vice President for Government Affairs at Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading victim assistance organization which touches the lives of more than 250,000 children and families affected by crime and abuse each year, said, “By leading the effort to remove registered sex offenders from online video game systems, the Attorney General is taking action to keep New York’s children safe. Operation:Game Over is a smart, effective way to protect our kids from the dangers lurking anonymously on the Internet, and we applaud the Attorney General’s leadership on this important issue.”

Parry Aftab, a nationally renowned lawyer specializing in Internet privacy and security law and founder of wiredsafety.org, said, “Congratulations to General Schneiderman and the participating companies for their progressive and forward-thinking approach to protecting the young online gamers. This initiative will save lives.”

Mary Haviland, Executive Director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, said, “We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for taking bold action to protect New York’s kids from becoming victims. This is a groundbreaking effort that keeps the online community safer for our children, and sends a strong message that sexual predators can’t hide behind anonymous profiles online to prey on victims anymore.”

Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said, “The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children commends Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership and commitment. Those who prey upon children go to where the children are, including online gaming. Operation Game Over is a positive, proactive step to keep our children safe.” 

Hemanshu (Hemu) Nigam, CEO of SSP Blue and former Chief Security Officer of MySpace and News Corporation, said, “In today’s digital age, it takes a public/private partnership to fight against those intent on harming our children online. I congratulate Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for working with the world’s leaders in online gaming to create a safer environment for players of all ages. Having helped many companies protect kids online, it’s inspiring to see the industry and government working hand in hand.”

According to the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), New York State has more than 33,000 registered sex offenders: 12,800 are level 1 registered offenders (lowest risk of repeat offense); 11,948 are level 2 registered offenders (moderate risk of repeat offense); 8331 are level 3 registered sex offenders (high risk of repeat offense and a threat to public safety exists). There are a total of approximately 745,000 registered sex offenders in the United States.

Attorney General Schneiderman provided the following tips for parents to protect children from sexual predators from online video game networks:

  • Choose games appropriate for your child’s age and maturity level;
  • Use your game console’s parental controls (control which games can be played; for how long; and whether they can play online);
  • Keep computer or game console in a public area of the home; and
  • Talk to your kids about how to protect identifying information, and to avoid and report conversations that make them uncomfortable.

Coordination between the Attorney General’s office, DCJS and the gaming companies is being handled by the A.G.’s Internet Bureau, under the supervision of Senior Advisor & Counselor to the Attorney General Gregory M. Krakower, Assistant Attorney General Clark Russell, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.