Tuesday, May 5, 2009

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Texas Attorney General Abbott, Senator Shapiro, Representative Pena Mark Texas Senate’s Passage of E-mail Registration Bill

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, state Sen. Florence Shapiro and Rep. Aaron Pena today marked the Texas Senate’s passage of legislation that would require convicted sex offenders to provide their online and cellular telephone account information to the state’s Sex Offender Registry. Senate Bill 689 passed the Senate on Monday and is now pending in the Texas House of Representatives.

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“This legislation will help protect children by ensuring that state law keeps up with modern technology,” Attorney General Abbott said. “By requiring sexual predators to provide their electronic identities, the Legislature is simply improving existing registration requirements – which require convicted sex offenders to provide their addresses to the Department of Public Safety. As Attorney General, I am grateful to Sen. Shapiro and Rep. Pena for their innovative approach and commitment to Texas children.”

Sen. Shapiro added: “I have spent my career protecting the innocent against predatory sexual offenders, beginning with Ashley's Laws in 1995. With today’s new Internet sites, it is now time to take this fight into the virtual world and target those who target our children through social networking sites, chat rooms and live video gaming systems. I commend General Abbott for his work against these most heinous criminals as well, and am grateful to his Cyber Crimes Unit for the strides it has made to bring these offenders to justice.”

Rep. Pena said: “We are closer today to preventing sex offenders from using social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook to prey upon our children. SB689 is an important progression in making the Internet safer from online predators. This legislation will provide law enforcement with new tools, resources and information to track sex offenders online.”

The bills – Senate Bill 689 by Sen. Shapiro and its companion House Bill 1239 by Rep. Pena – include four key provisions that strengthen state sex offender registration laws:

• Registration of Internet accounts and e-mail addresses. If enacted, the legislation would require all sex offenders to register their Internet account and online identifiers, including e-mail addresses and designations used for online chatting, instant messaging, social networking or other similar Internet communication. The law would require that sex offenders notify their primary registration authority or the Department of Public Safety, which manages the state’s Sex Offender Registry, any time offenders change their Internet service providers or other online identifiers.

• Registration of mobile telephone numbers. Dramatic growth within the mobile communications sector has increased children’s access to cellular telephones. As a result, young Texans now frequently send text messages, transfer photographs, and use their mobile telephones to chat online. To help prevent sexual predators from using mobile phones to prey upon children, the law would require registered sex offenders to register their cell phone numbers with the DPS.

• Sharing information with law enforcement. Authorizes DPS to release state sex offender Internet identifiers to the OAG and social networking sites (i.e., MySpace.com, Facebook.com).

• Internet prohibitions for certain sex offenders. Requires sentencing courts and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to prohibit certain sex offenders (e.g., those who committed a sex offense against a minor; are designated a level 3 sex offender; or used the Internet to facilitate the commission of the crime), as a condition of parole or probation, from using the Internet to access obscene material; access a commercial social networking Web site; communicate with other individuals or groups for the purpose of promoting sexual relations with persons under 17; or communicate with a person under 17 when such offender is over 17.

In 2003, Attorney General Abbott established the Cyber Crimes Unit to crackdown on child pornographers and sexual predators who use the Internet to prey upon children. The Cyber Crimes Unit has arrested 105 predators in 25 Texas counties and Indonesia. These defendants were caught trying to arrange sexual encounters online with victims they acknowledged were young children. The “children” actually were undercover investigators. Cyber Crimes Unit investigators have also obtained convictions against 96 individuals on child pornography charges.

Since taking office, Attorney General Abbott has earned a national reputation for aggressively arresting and prosecuting child sexual predators. In addition to arrest roundups, Abbott also launched a series of town hall meetings statewide to educate parents and teenagers about the kind of criminal activity that goes on in connection with Internet diaries, chat rooms and social networking sites. Thousands of concerned Texans turned out at venues across the state to participate in the interactive presentation about the risks of online predators and the steps parents can take to protect their children online.

To find out more about Attorney General Abbott’s efforts to crack down on sexual predators, visit the agency’s Web site at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or call (800) 252-8011.