COLUMBIA — A Missouri state representative has proposed legislation that would require sex offenders to register e-mail addresses and electronic identities, such as instant messaging screen names, with state law enforcement.
The information would be added to the Missouri Sex Offender Registry, which is available to the public online. The requirement will be included in a bill state Rep. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, plans to introduce in the 2008 legislative session.
“As a parent, this has been an ongoing concern of my wife and me as our daughters spend more and more time on the Internet,” Dempsey said.
Sex offenders would be limited to using e-mail addresses and electronic identities that are registered with the state and violations would be treated the same as not registering an address.
Dempsey said strategies for monitoring registered sex offenders’ use of the Internet, such as how to stop offenders from getting new, unregistered e-mail addresses, will be one of the topics debated when the Missouri House of Representatives convenes next year.
Boone County Sheriff’s Department Detective Andy Anderson, who coordinates the Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force, said he thinks the registry should include information about offenders’ e-mail accounts. But he said parents shouldn’t have a false sense of security about the completeness of the list. He said “the vast majority” of people convicted in Internet sex crimes have no record of sex offenses, so their e-mail addresses would not appear unless or until they are convicted of a sex crime.
“This would potentially help investigations, though,” he said.
The Missouri Sex Offender Registry was created in 1995 and became available online in 2004. The registry includes personal information such as names and addresses, vehicles owned or operated, photos and alias information as well as physical descriptions.
Dempsey’s proposed legislation would also make age misrepresentation with intent to solicit a minor a class D felony, carrying a punishment of up to four years in prison. Repeat offenders would receive harsher penalties.
Dempsey said he hopes the law can be passed as quickly as possible. He plans to ask for the support of other state representatives to include an emergency clause in the bill that would allow the law to go into effect before Aug. 28, 2008.
Social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Friendster and Xanga are considered hotbeds for Internet sex crimes because of the ease of browsing for and adding friends. More than 30 million children use the Internet, and 61 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have a personal profile on social networking sites, according to netsmartz.org.
The high number of children who use social networking sites makes it easy for sexual predators to find phone numbers of potential victims, according to previous Missourian reports. From that information, the sex offender can find an address, a map to the house, aerial photos of the location, who owns the house, the cars they drive and what school the children attend.
MySpace recently announced it had deleted 29,000 online profiles of registered sex offenders.
“We’ve got to update our information to match the technology that’s out there,” Dempsey said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Blunt announced last week that the Missouri Sex Offender Registry received top marks and a “gold medal award” from TopTenREVIEWS Inc. TopTenREVIEWS is a commercial Web site that rates and sells movies, music and software.
The registry was assessed on five criteria: information provided, search functions, additional site features, ease of use and availability of contact information. The site noted the Missouri Web site’s ability to map where sex offenders live, printable pages and safety tips.
The registry also lists phone numbers and e-mail addresses for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the agency in charge of the registry.
To access the Missouri Sex Offender Registry, go to www.mshp.dps.mo.gov and choose the “sex offender registry” button on the information bar at the top of the page.
Those without Internet access can call the Missouri State Highway Patrol on Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 888-767-6747.