NY’s e-STOP law: Not sure how much it protects

By Anne Collier

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo recently announced that his state’s new “e-STOP” law has “resulted in the removal of accounts associated with at least 4,336 registered sex offenders” (RSOs, some of whom had more than one account) from such social network sites as MyLife (formerly Reunion.com – 2,100 accounts), Tagged (950), hi5 (575), BlackPlanet (570), Bebo (542), Flixster (508), Flickr (448), Friendster (271), eSpin (120), Orkut (113), Stickam (109), Buzznet (18), and Fotolog (12). Without providing any detail, in his press release, General Cuomo also called on more than a dozen kid sites to screen for RSOs, among them BarbieGirls, Build-a-Bearville, Club Penguin, Girlsense, Neopets, and Webkinz. I think this announcement represents progress in the form of more granular understanding of the social Web as something hugely larger and more diverse than MySpace and Facebook. But it’s not a particularly protective state law in that 1) it can only affect offenders in that state; 2) if lots of states adopt such a law with lots of different reporting procedures to social sites, the burden on sites to do anything with that data becomes greater and greater, which makes cooperation less likely (e-STOP requires offender compliance, not site cooperation, partly because the sites aren’t based in New York); and 3) this would be more effective as federal law, in which case it would provide some protection to minors, but only from convicted and registered sex offenders in social sites, not from those who prey on children in real life, where the vast majority of such abuses occur, presumably most going unreported (even a law enforcement officer I spoke with recently said scrubbing social sites of predators doesn’t go very far in protecting children).

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