DOA: Megan’s Law for the 21st Century

John Gardner, the registered sex offender now serving a life sentence for killing Chelsea King and Amber Dubois, last logged into his MySpace account on Feb.24, 2010, the day before he murdered Chelsea King. An email account linked to Gardner’s profile was registered with MySpace; however the social networking website did not know who he was or what he had done, so they were unable to implement their zero tolerance policy toward registered sex offenders. This is because Megan’s Law does not require California’s 123,821 registered sex offenders to submit email addresses or other forms of Internet identification.
Megan’s Law is based on the premise that convicted sex offenders pose a threat to society and that the public deserves to know when they are in the community. Since Megan’s Law was signed into law and implemented in 1996, all 50-states have registered individuals convicted of felony sex crimes. Law enforcement collects personal, private and identifying information from the registered offenders. They then release some of that information to the public so that we can use it to protect ourselves from known threats in our neighborhoods. Law enforcement maintains all of the information collected from registered sex offenders in secure databases so that it can be used for investigative purposes.
This system served society well until communities expanded beyond our streets and neighborhoods to include Internet based social networking sites. Until social networking websites like Facebook and MySpace have an effective mechanism to monitor registered sex offenders they will continue to exploit the Internet’s anonymity and troll for victims in online communities.

California Senate Bill 57 (SB-57) would have updated Megan’s Law by requiring registered sex offenders to provide law enforcement with their email addresses and other Internet identifiers. Social networking websites would then be able to use that information to monitor or scrub registered sex offender profiles from their online communities.

SB-57 is based on legislation passed in New York in 2008. The Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP), which was sponsored by New York Governor, then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, has thus far successfully removed more than 24,000 social networking profiles belonging to registered sex offenders. SB 57 is also consistent with the federal KIDS Act of 2008, which requires sex offenders to provide email addresses as part of the state regulations.

Unfortunately, this important legislation was placed on the suspense file in the Assembly Committee on Appropriations where it died. The official reason that SB-57 was placed on suspense is that it was thought to be too costly for California to administer. However, in reality SB-57 only required a new form field to be entered onto an existing database. And, compared to the millions of children who would have been protected from the lurid advances of Internet predators like John Gardner who use social networking sites, minor administrative costs are inconsequential.

As has been demonstrated so many times in the past few years, government has failed us yet again. The fate of SB-57 was in the hands of Assembly Committee on Appropriations Chairman Felipe Fuentes (D-San Fernando Valley). Chairman Fuentes had the power to remove SB-57 from the suspense file and put it to the committee for a vote, where it surely would have passed, yet he failed to do so.

We have lost our opportunity to drag Megan’s Law into the 21st Century. Instead children who use social networking sites remain at risk of being victimized by known sexual predators. Our elected leaders have made a stark choice. The safety of California’s children is not a priority.