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Online sexual predator law lacks teeth, says expert

ALBANY - Last week, the big news in New York was that the state had utilized the law known as e-Stop (the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators approved by NY State Senate in 2008) that helped MySpace and Facebook purge more than 3,500 sexual predators from their membership rolls.

The cameras rolled as New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo heralded the exercise of the law and his efforts to make the Internet safer for kids. Moreover, other states, including Vermont, are looking to enact similar laws. However, according to one social media expert, it's all window dressing; there's nothing behind the curtain.

"Don't get me wrong," said Mary Kay Hoal, a New York-based activist mother and founder of Yoursphere.com, a safety-first social network for children.

"I want to support every effort of every person and company that works hard to pass laws designed to try to make the Internet safer for kids. The intentions were good but the fact of the matter is it will have little to no impact in stemming the tide of predators lurking online. It's toothless because it depends on convicted sexual offenders volunteering information."

Hoal's point is that more than 100,000 sexual predators were already known to be online using the world's largest social networking sites yet the predators still persisted successfully in continuing to join as evidenced by these additional 3,500 sex offenders being found on these sites from New York state.

"Only about 10 percent of them volunteered a MySpace or Facebook screen name," Hoal said. "And who is to say they don't have four or five other identities online they aren't divulging? While the best of intentions are behind this law, because neither site verifies identities, performs a predator check and eliminates anonymity, a false sense of security is bestowed upon the public. There's nothing to prevent a single predator from creating new false internet identifiers and signing right back up. That's something parents and the public need desperately to understand."

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