New York's attorney general and state legislative leaders presented a bill on Tuesday aimed at protecting people from sexual predators on the Internet, and Facebook, MySpace, and Yahoo backed the effort.
In a press conference, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced legislation they called "groundbreaking" in its proposed restrictions and controls of sexual offenders' online activities.
"Today I believe we're proposing the most comprehensive, smartest, toughest law in the nation to keep people safe online, especially minors," Cuomo said.
The Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP) responds to the widely documented use that sexual offenders make of the Internet, in particular social-networking sites, to stalk and victimize people, particularly minors.
Specifically, e-STOP would require convicted sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses, instant message screen names, and any other online identifiers with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. That data would then be made available to social-networking companies and other online services so that they can then block access to sexual offenders and remove them from their sites.
The bill also calls for allowing sentencing courts and the state's Parole Board to restrict the online activities of sex offenders who used the Internet to commit their crimes, victimized a minor, or are considered highly likely to repeat their offenses. In particular, the bill would ban many sex offenders from using social-networking sites.
There are more than 627,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, about 25,000 of whom are in New York, according to Cuomo's office.
State attorneys general have been very vocal about their concerns over online safety, in particular of minors who are preyed upon by sexual offenders on social-networking sites, which are widely used by teens.
The attorneys general have often criticized Facebook, MySpace, and other sites for, in their view, not doing enough to protect minors, but the two sides have recently seemed to get on better terms and have rolled out several joint security initiatives, partnerships, and agreements.
The e-STOP bill is needed to help social-networking companies keep their sites safer and will complement these companies' in-house security efforts, Cuomo said.
MySpace chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam agreed and said laws need to keep up with the times and technology. "We hope [e-STOP] becomes a model for other states to follow," Nigam said.
"As Facebook and other Internet companies do our best to exclude [from our sites] those who would do our users harm, we need help from the government," said Chris Kelly, Facebook's chief privacy officer.
Ideally, legislation such as e-STOP would get enacted widely at state and federal levels, Cuomo said.