U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday proposed requiring sex offenders to register their e-mail and instant messaging addresses with law enforcement authorities in a bid to protect children using popular social Internet sites like MySpace.
The legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives also would require the Justice Department to develop a system that would allow commercial social networking Web sites to check members’ addresses against individuals listed in the National Sex Offender Registry.
Violators who fail to comply with registering their online communication identities would face up to 10 years in prison under the bill. If the offender was on supervised release from prison, the individual’s probation would be revoked.
The measure would also make it a crime for anyone over the age of 18 to misrepresent their age for the purpose of luring a minor over the Internet for illegal sexual conduct.
The move comes as MySpace, owned by News Corp., has boosted efforts to block convicted sex predators from the site. Earlier this month, the families of five girls abducted by adults they met on MySpace sued the company for negligence.
“Many children who access the Internet in a safe environment — such as their home or school — forget that they are sharing personal information with complete strangers,” said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and co-sponsor of the bill.
He said MySpace and another popular site, Facebook, have endorsed the measure.
“This bill provides social networking sites, which are an increasingly popular way for kids to connect with their friends, with one more tool to help keep our children safe from dangerous predators on the Internet,” said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, a North Dakota Democrat who also sponsored the bill.
The legislation also follows the resignation last year of a Republican House member from Florida, Mark Foley, after ABC News reported that he had sent sexually explicit messages to former teen-age male interns, known as congressional pages.
Sex offender data is currently collected by individual state authorities. MySpace and background verification company Sentinel Tech Holdings Corp. developed a technology that combines those registries to help police track some 600,000 convicted sex offenders.
MySpace struck a partnership with Sentinel in December to create the database and has been using it to identify, block or delete the accounts of known sex predators on its service.
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