May 21, 2007 / 3:56 PM / in 11 years

MySpace in deal with 8 state attorneys general

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Popular Internet social network MySpace said on Monday it reached an accord with eight U.S. state attorneys general and has worked out a legal mechanism to hand over information on convicted sex offenders found on its service.

Last week, a coalition of U.S. law enforcement authorities criticized the News Corp.-owned service for not divulging information from profiles of convicted sex offenders on MySpace.

MySpace said it had identified, blocked and deleted about 7,000 such profiles, but had initially declined to hand over the information immediately, citing a disclosure law barring it from giving away the information without a court order.

By last Wednesday, MySpace and the attorneys general group reached an agreement.

MySpace officials said they had always intended to provide information to law enforcement officials, but were trying to work out a legal process for handing over the information.

“When we remove individuals from our site, we always keep in mind the law enforcement aspect of it,” MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam said in an interview.

MySpace and the attorneys general group, led by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and North Carolina AG Roy Cooper, have worked out a system to hand over information to be used to pursue offenders, although that process could differ from state to state.

“Each state has its own laws,” Fox Interactive Media general counsel Mike Angus told Reuters. “It’s an intricate web of laws that we make sure we comply with ... We don’t want these guys walking out on a technicality.”

Blumenthal said he has been issued a subpoena for the information. “Our subpoena compels this information right away -- within hours not weeks, without delay -- because it is vital to protecting children,” he said in a statement. “Social networking sites should not be playgrounds for predators.”

But some attorneys general urged the company to take more actions to protect minors.

“While conveying this information to us is a good first step, MySpace needs to do more, including implementing an effective age verification system that will make the site considerably safer,” Ohio AG Marc Dann said in a statement.

MySpace has come under legal scrutiny over the past year after some of its young members fell prey to adult predators posing as minors. The families of several teenage girls who said they were sexually assaulted by MySpace members sued the service in January for failing to protect its members.

To protect its large audience of teenagers -- some as young as 14 years old -- MySpace late last year contracted background verification firm Sentinel Tech Holdings Corp. to develop the first national database of convicted sex offenders. MySpace uses the data to cross-reference against its own database of users and weed out predators.

Previously, registries of offenders were only available on a state level, making it difficult to track and investigate known offenders. The new system, called Sentinel SAFE, launched on May 2.

“We have zero tolerance for sex offenders,” Angus said. “After spending a year meeting with AGs, we figured that if we were to move quickly, we had to build it ourselves.”

Part of the dispute with legal authorities was over the term “deletion” of profiles, MySpace officials said. Although the service has deleted the profiles from MySpace, information is collected in its database for law enforcement, Angus said.

The attorneys general of Georgia, Idaho, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and New Hampshire joined Connecticut in signing the letter last week demanding that the company turn over information on sex offenders on MySpace.

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