Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sex Offender Email Registry

An E-Mail Registry for Sex Offenders?

Isn't this just another example of what Rush Limbaugh calls "Symbolism over Substance?" This is just political nonsense at its highest. Wanting to appear tough on crime, especially against those who are exploiting children, Charles Schumer and John McCain propose legislation to make sex offenders register their active email addresses. While this seems like a good idea at first glance, it lacks any real punch against those who are obviously flouting the law to do what they do in the first place. What's to stop someone from creating a new Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo! Mail account and hitting MySpace to troll for kids whom they can exploit? Nothing - since they're law-breakers already why would they care about a couple more charges if they get caught?

John Shehan, program manager of the CyberTipline, a project by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children has it right: it's the responsibility for parents to work to keep their kids safe on line. It has to be the parents because "Big Daddy" government isn't going to be able to throw someone in jail until it's too late and they've already gotten a hold of some unfortunate young person and exploited them for their perverted desires. Parents need to be involved in their kids' lives - they cannot rely on laws and technology alone. The more the parents talk and work with their kids to educate them about on line predators the better the kids will know when someone is trying to cultivate an improper relationship. Armed with that knowledge it's more likely the kids will tell their parents when something inappropriate is happening on line.

If the government wants to use technology to help prevent child exploitation on line, let them come up with something a little more effective than just registering email addresses. How about installing a tamper-proof filter on their computers to keep them off sites used by children? Or perhaps they could register their computer itself by it's hardware address and then web site operators could bounce incoming traffic against that list and reject connections from computers in the registry. Of course, there are ways around those methods, too, but I think it would be more difficult for someone to get around than simply making them register their email addresses. Again, technology alone won't solve the problem. It takes an eclectic approach led by parents.

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