On April 26, the California Assembly Public Safety Committee was positioned to do something quietly wonderful for California’s children. Instead they sent a loud and clear message that they are more concerned with the rights of California’s registered sex offenders than they are about the safety of California’s nearly 10-million children.
Assembly Bill 755 (AB 755) would have created California’s Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act, or CAL E-STOP, which would require sex offenders to register any internet service provider to the California Department of Justice. The Department would then provide this information upon request to third-parties, to allow them to restrict or remove sex offenders from their services.
Sex offender registration laws are necessary because: sex offenders pose a high risk of re-offending after release from custody; protecting the public from sex offenders is a primary governmental interest; the privacy interests of persons convicted of sex offenses are less important than the government’s interest in public safety; and the release of certain information about sex offenders to public agencies and the general public will assist in protecting the public safety.
Megan’s Law built a community notification component into already mandated sex offender registration laws. It is named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka who was kidnapped from her front yard, raped and brutally murdered by a recidivist sex offending neighbor in 1994.
Community notification assists law enforcement in investigations; establishes legal grounds to hold known offenders; deters sex offenders from committing new offenses; and offers citizens information they can use to protect children from victimization.
In California convicted sex offenders are required to register annually with local law enforcement. As part of the process they are required to reveal certain personal and identifying information. Internet identifiers such as email addresses and IM handles are not required simply because the Internet was not a factor in the mid-90’s when sex offender registration and community notification laws were written. CAL E-STOP would have dragged Megan’s Law into the 21st Century by adding a new form field to the Megan’s Law registration form that will compel them to provide Internet identifiers, so that that information can be used to protect children from victimization and exploitation.
Support for CAL E-STOP was as impressive as it was expansive. California law enforcement associations, victim’s rights groups, and child advocacy organizations among others stood solidly behind the proposed legislation. Facebook, which had never before taken a stand, publicly favored CAL E-STOP because they want to provide a safe environment for their vast community. We even had a letter from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Chief of Staff endorsing the intent of CAL E-STOP, which was modeled after a law in New York that has successfully removed more than 11,000 registered sex offenders from Facebook and MySpace since 2009.
Opposition included: Legal Services for Prisoners with Children; California Coalition for Women Prisoners; California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and the ACLU.
With their 4 – 3 vote against CAL E-STOP, the California Public Safety Committee has failed to close the door on tens of thousands of registered sex offenders and sexual predators who will use social networking sites to prey on California’s children. We now know that they have blood on their hands. What we don’t know is just how much.