Registered sex offenders in the state will be required to register any e-mail address, user name or instant message screen name, along with their given name, place of residence and any crime for which they’ve been charged.
Gov. Phil Bredesen signed legislation requiring that information after the bill passed unanimously in the General Assembly. The law is effective July 1.
Rep. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, who sponsored the bill in the House, said it significantly improves online safety for children. It will make the e-mail addresses and user names public through the sex offender registry, allowing parents to monitor whom their children are talking to, he said.
“The reason I think it’s important is I’ve seen statistics that say one in five teenagers who regularly log onto the Internet have received unwanted sexual advances,” Rep. Overbey said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s legal counsel revised and upgraded previous legislation so it could meet standards mandated by the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, said TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm. That federal act integrates information from state sex offender registries so all law enforcement officials have access to the same information.
ABOUT THE LEGISLATION
* Requires sex offenders to provide Internet account information such as e-mail addresses, user names and aliases on the sex offender registry, and to notify their registering agency within three days of any changes to the information.
* Requires probation or parole officers to notify the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation upon learning of any such changes.
* Authorizes the TBI to transmit such information electronically to companies that provide pre-screening services.
Source: SB 2594 Fiscal Note
The state had until next year to meet the requirements, many of which it already complies with, she said.
“Tennessee is actually above the minimum requirements,” Ms. Helm said. “These were some of the things we needed to come into compliance with. It’s just another field that (sex offenders) have to report.”
While the TBI will not monitor e-mail addresses and screen names, officials may use the data during sex offender registry roundups, Ms. Helm said.
During such roundups, law enforcement officials check listed residences of offenders to ensure they have provided current information, she said.
The legislation will make Tennessee — already known as an unfriendly state for sex offenders — even tougher, said Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. Some sex offenders are prohibited from using the Internet for certain types of activities and can be checked to see if they violate terms of their parole, she said.
“That’s something that their parole officer will have an opportunity to check against,” Rep. Woodson said.
Law enforcement officials need another tool to combat the rising number of online predators, and the bill will make that possible, said local defense attorney Robin Flores, who handles many sexual offender cases.
But he wonders whether the requirements infringe upon privacy and if new legislation will continually punish sexual offenders.
“After a while, we’re going to have to start thinking, ‘How far will that go?’” Mr. Flores said. “Simply because someone is convicted and served their time doesn’t mean they’ve given up their rights.”
Claris Networks, an information technology company, recommended the legislation because the company thinks the bill will serve as a deterrent to those thinking about preying on young people online, said Claris spokesman Brooks Brown.
It also helps law enforcement officials find sex offenders with an unregistered address who talk to minors, he said.
“We’re hoping that it will curb the desire and the thought by sex offenders that would go online and talk to children,” he said. “They’ll think, ‘It seems a little more risky to me than it did before.’”