(from castlecorp website:
By Gerald R. Smith,
In an article last month, I examined the law as it relates to liability for harms resulting from Internet activity and predicted that in the future the liability of service providers, hosts, forum administrators, and others might be increased. The article focused in part on a lawsuit against MySpace, Inc., filed by the parents of a minor who was sexually assaulted by a person she met on myspace.com.
In a somewhat related matter, MySpace recently agreed to provide the names of convicted sex offenders who register on the site. Link The release of these names has resulted in several arrests of sex offenders on probation or parole, including 7 in the state of Texas. Link The seven arrested in Texas included 6 who had gone to MySpace in violation of their conditions of parole or probation and 1 who had failed to register as a sex offender.
MySpace’s decision to release the names came after first denying requests from attorneys general of several states for the lists. MySpace relented when several states issued subpoenas. A question arises as to whether MySpace could have, or perhaps more importantly, should have prevailed if the decision had been made to contest the subpoenas. Probably in terms of offenders whose conditions of probation or parole included restrictions on Internet use, contact with minors, and similar matters, contesting the subpoenas would have failed. The legal issue with respect to those who had completed their probationary term or parole is a bit thornier. Lifelong sacrifice of privacy is arguably appropriate for sex offenders, particularly child molesters, but what is the limit? Moreover, conditions applied to specific instances of criminal conduct often become generally applicable. This phenomenon often results in restrictions that are both unreasonable and totally unrelated to a conviction, and more troubling, are often applied to people who have not been convicted of a crime. The basic question becomes, as it often does when issues of privacy and other freedoms are involved, where do we draw the line between protecting ourselves and sacrificing our freedoms?
Fueling the debate are some remarkable statistics produced by the district attorney in Tarrant County, Texas. Tarrant County includes Fort Worth and Arlington and has a population of about 1,700,000. A random sampling that included nearly 30% of the 2800 registered sex offenders residing in the county revealed that 9.4% had a MySpace page. The actual percentage would probably be considerably higher because the sampling revealed only those who had registered at MySpace with their real names and addresses. Link Why they would use their real names is a mystery, but it is often said that if law violators were intelligent, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, court staff, and others would soon become unemployed.
Other statistics released by the DA revealed how dangerous unsupervised visits to MySpace and similar sites can be for a child. One in five children have received a sexual solicitation or approach on the Internet in the past year, with 1 in 33 being an “aggressive solicitation.” One in four have been exposed to unwanted depictions of nudity or sexual conduct, and 1 in 17 have been threatened or harassed.
The scientific nature of the district attorney’s survey is open to question considering that nothing is said about the definition of the terms. Almost all of the terms used are highly subjective and it is not clear whether these terms were used in the survey or simply in the conclusion. Indeed, nothing at all is stated with respect to the methodology in collecting the data. The DA’s question about leaving a child alone in a room of 100 strangers when 10 of them are sex offenders casts doubt on both the subjectivity and methodology of the survey. Assuming that 10% of sex offenders have MySpace pages, that does not mean that 10% of MySpace users are sex offenders, the conclusion on which the “alone in a room of 100 strangers” analogy rests.
Regardless of the statistical validity of the survey, however, it does bolster the almost self-evident fact that MySpace and the rest of the Internet poses dangers for all, particularly unsupervised and trusting children. As I argued in last month’s article, leaving the matter solely to parents will often leave children without adequate protection. This becomes readily apparent when considering the DA’s story about warning a specific child’s parents about information on her MySpace page did not result in their action to correct the matter. It is incumbent upon us all to engage in publicity, education, and other means to make the Internet a safer place for children.