In a move that brings the issue of freedom versus safety online to the forefront, New York state Attorney General Mario Cuomo has announced that 3,500 convicted sex offenders have been removed from Facebook and MySpace collectively.
While no one wants to stand up for the kiddie diddlers, it’s a move that makes some (like me, a mother and registered Libertarian) very uncomfortable. I personally don’t want my kids interacting with sex offenders on the internet. And I think the responsibility falls entirely on me and their dad to keep them safe online. Booting the offenders from a legal activity engaged in while they’re not incarcerated is scary- and the fact that as of now all fifty states don’t possess the ability to cast a wide net means that the move is akin to wearing a condom one out of fifty times you have sex. (Excepting population density from the equation.)
Surveillance of private citizens online, even convicted felons, is a scary precedent to be setting. Under the guise of protection, legal patterns can be set significantly affecting your online experience down the road. (And how information transmitted can be used against you.) The sites are privately held, of course, and have the right to decide who uses their service, but this level of collusion with law enforcement can’t be a good thing. Throw in the fact that a crime such as public urination can get one branded as sex offender (as well as crimes committed as a teenager) and the move is further cast into a gray area in which the rights of a citizen after an arrest become murkier.
According the the New York Daily News, affected users include at least three people convicted of sexual crimes against children. Mashable commented on the action, saying:
That said, until we see cases of unjust account termination emerging, it’s certainly good news that the social networks and the states are working effectively to remove dangerous users from their services.
But until we can ascertain that initiatives such as these aren’t impinging on our civil liberties, shouldn’t the state abstain from them? The data used in the sweep was provided by the offenders themselves, and 8,106 registered sex offenders reported their online information to the state.