TRENTON — Facebook users would know if “friends” of theirs — or of their children — were convicted sex offenders under a measure put forward today by state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman.
While some social networking websites, including Facebook, ban sex offenders, Bateman (R-Somerset) wants to clamp down even more by making them disclose their convictions as part of their profiles or face a possible prison sentence and a steep fine.
The bill essentially applies Megan’s Law, which requires convicted sex offenders to register and for authorities to notify neighbors, to an online world nearly impossible to envision when it was enacted in 1994.
“In many ways, sex offenders can use the Internet as a venue and a means to plot and begin to carry out their crimes against vulnerable and unsuspecting victims,” Bateman said. “This legislation supplements Megan’s Law to assist law enforcement agencies in stepping up their increasingly successful efforts targeting and fighting Internet sex crimes.”
Under Bateman’s bill, convicts would have to provide their e-mail address, where their crimes took place, what they look like, and a link to their entries on the state’s online sex offender registry.
In its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, Facebook already requires users to affirm that they have not been convicted. It also instructs users to let the site know if they see profiles of known sex offenders, and a spokesman for the company said it works with state attorneys general to run their lists of sex offenders through their user base.
Bateman and other lawmakers were still not completely satisfied with the safeguards.
“It is not guaranteed that convicts who have committed such heinous acts will read and adhere to a website’s terms of service,” said Jeremy Rosen, a spokesman for Senate Republicans. “Also, some social networking accounts and profiles could have been legitimately established by sex offenders prior to any convictions.”
Under the terms of the bill, which Bateman said was based on a measure recently enacted in Louisiana, violators would face up to 18 months in prison and as much as a $10,000 fine.
Indiana took a different approach than Louisiana by placing a total ban on convicted sex offenders from using social networking websites, though the American Civil Liberties Union is appealing a federal judge’s decision upholding the law.
Katie Wang, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey ACLU, said the organization had no comment on Bateman’s bill.
Megan’s law was named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl from Hamilton who was raped and murdered by a neighbor who had been convicted of molesting one child and trying to molest another.
Maureen Kanka, Megan’s mother, said she agreed with the intent of Bateman’s bill, but questioned whether it would be adequately enforced.
Kanka said many offenders who fail to register under the current version of Megan’s Law often simply get a “slap on the wrist.”
“I think the thought behind it is wonderful,” she said. “Do I think it’s going to be effective? I don’t think they have the manpower to see that they’re putting the information out there, that they’re doing it, and actually prosecute, fine and imprison them if they don’t.”