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Cuomo’s 11th proposal for 2020: Prohibit sex offenders from using social media

Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his eleventh proposal of the 2020 State of the State agenda this weekend.

The measure would prevent convicted sex offenders from using social media accounts, dating apps and video game chat functions to exploit children. The proposal builds on New York’s nation-leading e-STOP law, which passed in 2008 and requires sex offenders to register certain online activities with the state.

“Protecting New York’s children is our top priority and we cannot let technological advances become entryways that allow dangerous online predators to identify and prey on new victims,” Governor Cuomo said. “Our laws must keep pace with the world around us and with this measure we will help safeguard those using these websites and apps, and stop those who seek to harm and exploit our children once and for all.”

As Attorney General, Governor Cuomo authored the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act – or e-STOP. The law requires sex offenders to register and keep up to date all current email accounts, screen names and any other Internet identifiers with the state Division of Criminal Justice Services; the list is then given to certain social networking companies that purge their sites of offenders.

But with the proliferation of online dating apps and social media, online predators are using different tools to exploit children, and the current law does not account for these new technologies.

To address this problem, Governor Cuomo is proposing legislation to require all sex offenders to affirmatively disclose their screen name for each social media account or dating/gaming app they are on to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, as opposed to just giving the email address they use for those accounts. DCJS will send this list to any provider that the offender discloses, and the provider will be required to review this data, develop policies on how to use it, and release this policy publically to their users.

The new legislation would also make it a crime for convicted sex offenders to misrepresent themselves online. DJCS will provide the information to online companies so that the companies can better protect their users from predators. Companies must further delineate any actions they take with respect to these accounts. Any offender that has been misrepresenting themselves online will be subject to further criminal penalties.

The scourge of sexual abuse online remains a statewide threat, and as the Internet and operation of sexual predators online rapidly evolves, so too must the law. A recent Court of Appeals case held the e-STOP law did not specify that sex offenders had to disclose that they had a Facebook account if they were using their real name. However, the true intent of the law provides law enforcement tools to remove accounts and monitor accounts to ensure that individuals conversing with someone online can be assured that person is not a predator. In 2019, e-STOP resulted in the account information of 22,000 registered sex offenders being removed from social media sites.

By strengthening the current law and expanding it to include other technological tools used by sexual predators, it will also give law enforcement and prosecutors the ability to hold sex offenders accountable for predatory actions.

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