By MICHAEL FELBERBAUM
Associated Press Writer
December 11, 2006 RICHMOND, Va. -- Attorney General Bob McDonnell on Monday announced plans for legislation to require convicted sex offenders to register their online identities with the state to allow social networking Web sites like MySpace to delete or block access.
The move to require registration of e-mail addresses and instant messaging identities on the state's sex offender registry would make Virginia the first state to propose legislation of its kind, McDonnell's office said.
"We require all sex offenders to register their physical and mailing addresses in Virginia, but in the 21st century it is just as critical that they register any e-mail addresses or IM screen names," McDonnell said in a news release.
McDonnell said it is important these changes be made at a state level because a majority of prosecutions and convictions for sex offenders happen under state jurisdiction.
There are more than 550,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S. and 13,000 in Virginia.
Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace's chief security officer, applauded the Virginia announcement.
"This legislation is an important recognition that the Internet has become a community as real as any other neighborhood and is in need of similar safeguards," Nigam said.
Nigam also said the information will also give law enforcement new tools to "employ against predators who attempt to misuse the Internet to find potential victims."
This type of legislation is long overdue on a state and national level, said Donna Rice Hughes, president of Internet safety group Enough Is Enough®, and a member of the Virginia task force.
"Sexual predators are using the Internet as their tool of choice to anonymously contact and prey on children," Hughes said, adding there's no "silver bullet," but the legislation will be a helpful legal tool is part of the solution.
MySpace last week announced plans to develop technologies to help block convicted sex offenders in an attempt to address complaints about sexual predators and other dangers to teens.
The popular online hangout is deploying within 30 days a database that will contain the names and physical descriptions of convicted sex offenders in the United States. An automated system will search for matches between the database and MySpace user profiles. Employees will then delete any profiles that match.
U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz., last week announced plans to introduce similar federal legislation to apply to those on probation or parole.
The state proposal stems from discussions with the social networking site and McDonnell's Youth Internet Safety Task Force and is part of a package of proposals that from the task force that will be announced on Dec. 20.
On the Net:
Virginia Sex Offender Registry: http://sex-offender.vsp.virginia.gov
Enough Is Enough®: http://www.enough.org