Sex Offenders to Feel Eyes of Big Brother Online - Lots of Issues
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You may be wondering what all these issues have to do with you as a web host. Well, you may find yourself providing email accounts to your users. If these laws pass, sex offenders will have to register their email addresses. Suppose one of them says they have an account with you. Law enforcement officials are supposed to verify that information. If dealing with police makes you uncomfortable, then you might want to consider a career change if that legislation passes. At the very least, you'll have to make sure all of your information is as up-to-date as you can make it.
Another issue with this move to get all sex offenders to register their email addresses and put the information together in a single database is that there's no guarantee it will even work to protect anyone online. According to Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org, "People who are registered sexual offenders will just not be themselves now (and) the people who they really need to protect kids from in most cases are not (convicted) sexual offenders...They are people who haven't been caught yet. It's a great PR (public relations) move but frankly I don't think it's going to make anyone safer."
Getting back to the issue for email providers, one person commenting on a news item about MySpace's database under construction noted that "For that to work, of course, every company that gives out e-mail addresses would have to require identification and that's something that will never happen. It would also require MySpace itself to require users to sign up using factual information." That's the kind of record keeping task that might even make a baseball statistician pause.
There are certain problems with online sex offender registries to begin with. The American Civil Liberties Union opposes them for two reasons, according to Francisco Lobaco, legislative director of the ACLU in California. "First, it heightens the risk of harassment and discrimination of those who have already served their time. Second, it fails to consider whether the individual continues to pose a risk to the public."
Someone who is genuinely a sexual predator has no place on social networking sites. This legislation, and MySpace's database, may be a worthwhile first step. Still, it's important to weigh just how much it will really help - and how much work will be involved to keep it running smoothly. If you're a web host and/or email provider, you may need to take a close look at your current registration and database updating procedures, and be prepared to change them in the face of potential new legal requirements.
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