Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has introduced a bill that would require all social networks operating in that state, including MySpace and Xanga, to verify users’ ages, require parental consent to publish the profiles of minors, and give parents access to their children’s data.
Social networks, especially MySpace, have been criticized for not adequately protecting minors from online predators. This week, a federal judge in Connecticut sent a New Jersey man to prison for 14 years for molesting an 11-year-old girl after first meeting her in 2005 through MySpace. The Attorneys General’s office says it has tied at least six other alleged sexual assaults in minors to MySpace.
Under the proposed law, social networks that do not secure the profiles of members under the age of 18 could face fines of up to $5,000 per violation. Affected individuals would also be able to file their own lawsuits independently.
“These sites must verify ages and give parents power to keep their children off these sites – contacting parents directly if necessary to confirm their consent,” said Blumenthal in a statement. “Failing to verify ages means that children are exposed to sexual predators who may be older men lying to seem younger. There is no excuse in technology or cost for refusing age verification. If we can put a man on the moon – or invent the Internet – we can reliably check ages.”
Blumenthal’s office suggests that social networks could verify ages by requiring a government-issued ID like a driver’s license and checking public records available online. The bill is still in the debate phase. Some like committee member Len Greene, though, have pointed out problems with using drivers licenses as a form of online ID, according to the Reuters news agency.
After concerns about user privacy and safety, News Corp., MySpace’s parent company, created the “chief security officer” position to work with law enforcement and make sure MySpace’s age policies are enforced.
Blumenthal is assembling a coalition of 44 states to pressure social networks like MySpace, FaceBook, and Xanga, to implement more effective age verification systems.