Wednesday, February 4, 2009
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles frequently prohibits paroled sex offenders from using the Internet. Despite that prohibition, investigators with the Office of the Attorney General discovered that Scott established an online MySpace account, which he used on his personal computer. After Scott’s arrest, investigators discovered that he also used his cellular telephone to access his online profile.
Scott’s arrest comes just weeks after a technology industry task force released a report downplaying the dangers facing children online. The report and task force stem from a Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking agreement that 49 state attorneys general negotiated with social networking giant MySpace.com. Citing inadequate safeguards for children and concerns that the agreement would give parents a false sense of security, Attorney General Abbott declined to join the agreement.
Questioning the report’s findings, Attorney General Abbott said: Since our Cyber Crimes Unit first began its online predator crackdown, we have arrested more than 100 sexual predators for using the Internet to prey upon children. Although these arrests plainly illustrate the dangers that children face online, this report minimizes the dangers posed by online sexual predators. The report’s conclusions are not only erroneous, but worse they give a false sense of relief to parents who should be increasingly concerned about their children’s online activities. The Office of the Attorney General will continue working with law enforcement and parents to protect young Texans from Internet predators.
The Attorney General’s Fugitive and Cyber Crimes units’ have arrested 28 convicted sex offenders who accessed MySpace in violation of their parole conditions. Four additional subjects were arrested for using MySpace to meet and sexually proposition users whose online profiles indicated they were between the ages of 12 to 14 years old. In all four of those cases, the profile actually belonged to an undercover Cyber Crimes Unit investigator.
Attorney General Abbott has repeatedly urged MySpace.com and other social networking sites to implement specific safety measures that would help prevent young users from receiving unwanted sexual advances and sexually explicit images.
To help law enforcement officials protect young Internet users and crack down on cyber predators, Attorney General Abbott recently called for statutory changes that would update Texas’ sex offender registration laws. Citing the prevalence of sexual predator activity online, the Attorney General asked legislators to supplement existing sex offender registration requirements by also requiring sexual predators to register their e-mail addresses, mobile telephone numbers, social networking aliases and other electronic identification information.
Attorney General Abbott’s proposal features four key recommendations:
Sex offender e-mail registration. Texas law should require all registered sex offenders to record their online identities and account information with the Department of Public Safety (DPS). This new requirement would apply to sex offenders’ e-mail addresses, screen names, or other assumed identities used for web-based chats, instant messaging, social networking or other similar electronic communications platforms.
Sex offender mobile telephone number registration. Dramatic growth within the mobile communications sector has increased children’s access to cell phones. As a result, young Texans now frequently send text messages, transfer photographs and chat online with their mobile telephones. To help prevent sexual predators from using mobile phones to prey upon children, registered sex offenders should be required to register their cell phone numbers with DPS.
Law enforcement must share information. DPS should be authorized to release sex offenders’ online identities to the Office of the Attorney General, social networking sites and other specified Internet platforms. By sharing this information with authorized entities, sex offenders can be pre-screened and their online profiles can be removed by website operators.
Prohibit use of Internet for certain convicted sex offenders. Both the courts and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles should be granted expanded authority to prohibit certain high-risk sex offenders, as a condition of parole or probation, from using the Internet to access pornographic material; accessing a commercial social networking site; promoting sexual relations with children younger than 18; or communicating with a person younger than 18 when the offender is older than 18.
Since taking office, Attorney General Abbott has earned a national reputation for aggressively arresting and prosecuting online child predators. The Fugitive Unit and the Cyber Crimes Unit, which protects children from online sexual exploitation, have combined to arrest more than 900 sex offenders since 2003. Cyber Crimes Unit investigators also have traveled to schools and communities statewide to offer educational cyber safety programs.