On May 20, 2008, the Senate unanimously passed the “Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators (or KIDS) Act of 2008,” which was introduced by Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York). The stated purpose of the bill is “to require convicted sex offenders to register online identifiers.”
Amendments to the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act made by this bill include the requirement of offenders to register their current e-mail address(es) and online identities. It also makes misrepresentation of age “in connection with online solicitation of a minor” illegal. Offenders face a fine and up to 20 years in prison.
E-mail addresses and online identities are added to a database called the “Online Identifier Checking System” for social networking websites (like MySpace or Facebook). The “Checking System,” maintained by the Attorney General’s (AG) office, allows social networking sites to cross-reference their databases to protect children from online predators using their sites.
While the intentions behind this bill are good, it lacks “teeth.” Adequate enforcement mechanisms are probably the most glaring of these shortcomings. Also, no funding was allocated to assist agencies in tracking and apprehending offenders, and the bill language doesn’t give the AG’s office incentive to update their online database. Finally, social networking sites are not required to use the “Checking System,” and, naturally, registered sex offenders can easily use different e-mail addresses and identities than the ones contained in the database.
In a recent USA Today editorial, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales highlighted the importance of the KIDS Act, stating, “We owe it to our children to protect them. New, tougher laws would help to do that.” Gonzales advocates this expansion of Internet oversight, including social networking sites, as a means of combating peddlers of child pornography online.
Because of “harshness,” criticism lobbied by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Members of the House of Representatives removed the registration requirement before it passed.
In addition to the KIDS Act, several other measures are being considered by Congress to combat the growing problem of online predators.
S. 1965, the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, launches a $10 million public awareness campaign focusing on outreach, education and promotion of material for parents and children to better understand Internet safety.
S. 1965 also “enhance[s] child pornography enforcement.” Fines are increased (up to $200,000) on Internet service providers for failing to report child pornography violations found online.
Additionally, S. 1965 sets up a working group comprised of members of online safety and technology groups and companies to study and develop technology for parental oversight of the Internet.
Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), S. 1965’s sponsor, claims the bill addresses parental control and improves online safety “without infringing on the First Amendment” and ensures that vital Internet safety education is given to children. Senator Stevens adds, “The Internet is a significant part of many people’s lives, and we must ensure that our children are educated about how to safely use this resource.”
Other bills under consideration include the Deleting Online Predators Act, Children’s Listbroker Privacy Act, Effective Child Pornography Prosecution Act, SAFE Act (Securing Adolescents From Exploitation Online) and several more.