July 10, 2008

Lawmakers Want Web Site Consent

By Jake Griffin

[email protected]@dailyherald.com

Area legislators want a state law requiring social networking Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook to get parental permission before youngsters are allowed to join.

House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego said the initiative is the next phase of a series of laws aimed at making the Internet safer for children.

"Several other states are starting to deal with this, but none have passed it," Cross said at a news conference Monday in Elmhurst. "Florida has had some successes, but not with everything we're trying to do."

In all, the Republican legislators unveiled close to 10 different initiatives they plan to file this week for the upcoming legislative session. Elmhurst Republican state Rep. Dennis Robeletti called the parental consent portion the "cornerstone" of the package.

Among the other proposed initiatives are:

- Banning sex offenders from social networking sites.

- Enhancing child pornography offenses to Super-Class X felonies that are require mandatory prison sentences ranging from nine to 40 years.

- Making it a class X, 1 or 2 felony for sex offenders to misrepresent their ages in juvenile solicitation cases.

- Strengthening current solicitation laws to include crimes committed through the Internet.

- Strengthening charges against offenders who travel to meet juvenile victims, but don't make contact.

- Requiring electronic and technology employees to report any cases of child pornography they encounter while repairing computers or other devices.

Cross said state officials have not approached operators of social networking sites about the new legislation. But he is hopeful in light of recent rule changes by MySpace that they will be open to them.

"There has been some cooperation, but the reality is it's not enough," Cross said. "We realize we're going to get some pushback on this."

MySpace officials would not comment on the proposed legislation Monday.

In January, MySpace announced stricter protocols for younger users and unveiled efforts to help keep sexual predators and convicted offenders away from the site.

This phase of legislation comes on the heels of laws passed nearly two years ago that helped define social networking sites and created a means for law enforcement to more easily "eavesdrop" on predatory online contact, the legislators said.

The proposed legislation would also strengthen some of the current laws.

"Like technology, we need to make sure laws we have on the books are not obsolete," said state Rep. Ruth Munson, an Elgin Republican. "We need to continuously update and upgrade."

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