Minnesota law requires that sex offenders' computers be monitored
By MARK BRUNSWICK, Star Tribune
Last update: May 6, 2009 - 9:35 PM
The networking site MySpace has purged 90,000 sex offenders' profiles since 2007, the company said earlier this year. In late March, a Hopkins man classified as a Level III sex offender was charged with repeatedly raping a teenage boy he met through an online service.
Armed with burgeoning examples of online threats, the Minnesota Legislature on Wednesday approved a bill that would keep the state's most dangerous sex offenders from gaining Internet access to social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
After release from prison, predatory offenders placed on intensive supervised release will be forbidden to log on to, create or maintain a personal Web page or social networking account if it permits contact with anyone under 18. The restrictions apply to chat rooms, instant messaging and popular sites like MySpace and Facebook, as well as operations such as Craigslist that may not be traditionally defined as social networking sites.
The Department of Corrections is given authority to examine computers and other devices with Internet capability. Violations could send offenders back to prison to serve out their full sentences. The bill takes effect next year.
The provision was part of a larger public safety bill that was approved unanimously by the House and the Senate, a rarity in the legislative process. There was no debate about the provision. It has the support of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said his spokesman, Brian McClung.
Another part of the bill would prohibit solicitation of a minor for sex over a cell phone, an expansion of a law that already prohibits soliciting a minor for sex over a computer.
The Senate passed the bill 63-0 on Wednesday; the House approved it 130-0 on Tuesday.
Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, the author of the two bills, said the restrictions are important to keep up with changing technology and the unchanging nature of predatory offenders.
"As technology expands and becomes broader and more accessible, we need to make sure our legislation is up to date as well," said Bigham, who worked with Attorney General Lori Swanson on the bill.
"Now we have picture messaging, instant messaging and text messaging. We need to make sure we are not leaving gaping loopholes for predators to create victims."
The social networking ban provides a broad definition to allow probation officers and other authorities leeway in monitoring an offender's computer. It also expands the authority of probation officers to make unannounced visits to monitor computer use.
"The invention of the Internet has been a positive thing, but it also has a darker side," said Swanson's spokesman Ben Woglsand. "These pieces of legislation are a good thing, but you are never going to be able to legislate your way away from predators who use the anonymity of the Internet to do their work. Everyone, parents and children, have to do their part to be vigilant."
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