Missouri law enforcement officials will soon be surfing the social networking site MySpace.com for convicted sex offenders to see whether their use of the site violates the terms of their probation or parole.
Last week, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon gave the Missouri State Highway Patrol the names of 178 convicted sex offenders who maintain pages on MySpace.com. The Highway Patrol will disseminate the information to local law enforcement officers.
Gov. Matt Blunt applauded Nixon’s actions but said, “It does not do enough to protect our young people from sexual predators.” Blunt cited the efforts of attorneys general from eight other states who subpoenaed information from MySpace.com about sex offenders who used the site, and he said Nixon should do the same.
Nixon spokesman John Fougere said the attorney general has done just that.
“The names of the Missouri convicted sex offenders were obtained through a subpoena issued to MySpace.com,” Fougere said in an e-mail. “The information we turned over to the Highway Patrol was just as complete as the information received by other states and was consistent with the information received by every other state attorney general who requested it.”
Boone County sheriff’s Detective Andy Anderson, a member of the Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force, said he was unaware of anyone in Boone County who has used MySpace or other similar sites to prey on minors.
“It’s not a crime to have a MySpace page, even if you are a convicted sex offender,” Anderson said. “The only exception potentially is if you are on probation or parole and there is a condition that you not use the Internet.”
Anderson said he was also unaware of any law that would require MySpace.com to screen for sex offenders. In a news release, Nixon said MySpace.com had taken some steps to improve the safety on its site, such as screening profiles for inappropriate content.
But even if MySpace.com denied membership to people on the sex-offender registry, those individuals could still obtain pages using false names and e-mail addresses.
Besides looking for probation or parole violations, it is unclear how the government can meet Blunt’s goal of using the names of sex offenders on MySpace.com to protect young people,
“We stress all the time that education is the key to solving this problem,” highway patrol Capt. Tim McGrail said. He emphasized that parental supervision remains the first and most important line of defense.
“Law enforcement is reactive,” McGrail said. “Sometimes they can be proactive, but a lot of it goes back to: Are the parents ensuring that their children aren’t out there? Are they paying attention to what their children are doing?”