Sunday, July 8, 2007

Prosecution of online predators often difficult

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It wasn't hard for state prosecutors to discover nearly 150 convicted New Jersey sex offenders were using MySpace. Putting them behind bars, however, won't be easy.

Although investigators are eager to know if these offenders used the social networking Web site to lure children, arresting and convicting online predators is a complex and often frustrating business.

The anonymity of the Internet helps predators mask their identities. Wireless networks and worldwide computer servers make tracing them equally challenging. So do jurisdictional issues – investigators in one state may not have the legal authority to follow the electronic trail elsewhere. And it's hard to collect evidence.

Theresa Curreri of Wayne learned all of that firsthand. When her son received a creepy, unsolicited e-mail on his MySpace page, she became suspicious.

"This was supposed to be from a woman in her mid-20s – he was 12 or 13 at the time," Curreri recalled.

She turned the e-mail over to a police officer, who informed her that the message stopped short of breaking the law. The most the officer could do, she said, was counsel her son to be wary of online messages from strangers.

"It's absolutely frustrating and it's kind of discouraging as a parent," said Curreri, a former Wayne school board president.

The state Attorney General's Office recently launched a wide-ranging probe into sex offenders who use social networking Web sites. And last week, it said it had discovered 141 of New Jersey's registered sex offenders using MySpace.

But the state will need to do more than just prove a convicted sex offender was using a social networking Web site to win a conviction. Prosecutors first will need to convince a judge they have specific information or "probable cause" that an offender committed a crime online.

If successful, a judge may issue a search warrant, which would permit investigators to seize records of a suspected predator's past online conversations, said Scott S. Christie, a former federal prosecutor and computer crime expert in Newark.

"The normal route in order to get content information from an Internet service provider is to use a search warrant," Christie said. Showing that a crime occurred before examining online chats "can be a difficult burden to meet," he said.

Scrutinizing these old chat sessions might reveal whether an offender propositioned a minor online for sex or tried to arrange an rendezvous – activities which may constitute crimes.

The attorney general's office now only has basic information about subscribers, such as the names used to create the accounts and the electronic address of their providers. State prosecutors say they are pursuing the case, but declined to discuss its challenges.

"We want to know what these sex offenders were doing on the Internet and whether they've engaged in activities that are criminal or violates the terms of the parole or probation," said Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the attorney general's office. "It would not be appropriate, however, to discuss our specific tactics."

One avenue appears fairly easy. Of the 141 convicted sex offenders using MySpace, 43 are on parole, officials said. Getting records of their Internet chats would pose less of a challenge.

"Parolees give up some of their [constitutional] rights ... and are subject to searches of their residences," Christie said.

One parole condition often imposed on sex offenders is a ban on communicating with minors. If they violate this ban, they violate their parole and can be sent back to prison.

Since the majority of the convicted offenders are no longer on parole, however, investigators will have a tougher time of finding out how they used the Web site.

First, they have to determine the true identity of the person holding the MySpace account. People can use aliases to create online accounts and pay for them with stolen credit card numbers or other payment services that make it difficult to track someone through financial transactions.

And once authorities have the name, tracing communications back to the person who actually wrote them is also complex, experts say. Often, more than one person shares a home computer. Internet access lines may be shared, too.

"Even after ... a thorough analysis of all the information is conducted, there is rarely enough probable cause established to request a search warrant on the customers' residence," Raul O. Roldan, chief of the FBI's cyber division, testified to Congress last year.

Then there are jurisdictional hurdles to be cleared. If an online predator lives in New Jersey, but the computer server used by his Internet service provider is in Texas, investigators need their out-of-state counterparts to get a warrant through those out-of-state courts, experts say.

Given all these impediments, experts say, investigators often prefer to pose as juveniles, enter into Internet chats with online predators and catch them in the act of soliciting sex from a minor.

One in seven young people using the Internet were the recipients of unwanted sexual solicitations or approaches, according to a study released last year by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Richard Kuder, principal of Eisenhower Middle School in Wyckoff, said it's very difficult for parents to keep track of their children on social networking sites.

"No matter how vigilant you are, our kids are often one step ahead," Kuder said.

He said the best way for parents to keep their children safe online is to apply these rules: Don't talk to strangers and don't give personal information to people you don't know.


Anonymous said...

I'm an RSO. The Myspace thing is frustrating. I'm tired of nefarious intent. I had a Myspace page (I've since shut it down). All those on my friends list were either family or friends in real life or bands. I've never sent a message to anyone I didn't know. I've never sent a message to any minors at all. Myspace has a 18 or older setting (which I did have turned on). Quite frankly at this point I would have preferred that they secretly reviewed my records rather than just kick me out. Myspace is only one site...what happends if others follow suit? What if I slowly be completely cut off from all sites. Will I be able to pay my bills online? Combined with residency restrictions will I slowly be isolated into a twilight prison. I worked hard to have a future. I have plans and dreams. But they're slowly taking away my dreams, my hopes, my future. And then I will become what they fear - an RSO sitting alone in the shadows. How ironic.

whatsthis said...

Zman, I would like to know if and when John Walsh can be stopped. heres the deal. He blamed Ottis Toole well that did not work, so he then turned to blaming Jeffrey Dahmer and that has not panned out. In fact if anyone had the guts to admit what he did and to whom it was Dahmer and he said he did not do it. A sick man that he was and for sure got all that he deserved had nothing to hide. So in the past years Walsh has begun to take his rage out on anyone he can. He says he is all about protecting "CHILDREN" well lets see if he really is. He has now become one of the worst CHILD ABUSER'S in the Country as well as teh world. He has ruin so many families, cost them their homes, jobs, their childrens friends, classmate's that use to spend the night over with children. He has punished so many children and their families in his attempt to as his book says "TEARS OF RAGE" well his rage has become a nightmare for so many children and their families. How can a man like this even sleep at night knowing that he has hurt so many families? How can a man stand beside Mark Foley knowing that he was being investigated for the very crimes, that Walsh is out doing stings? Why do we not see him doing stings on women? What is that he that dumb that he does not think that a woman is a sex offender, how does he know that a man did that horriable of a thing to poor Adam? Could it have been a woman? Could it have been one of his friends in the hotel business that went bad? His crimes of todays families,and children should not go unnoticed. He does not thing maybe its the black jacket that is causeing him to close his eyes. He is after only one thing and at any expense of any "CHILD" and that is to somehow try and get poor Adam back. We all wish we could get our love ones back from lost in a war or a Drunk driver, a drug dealer seeling to children and then they overdose and die. Well Mr. John E.Walsh that is a crime. Why are you not doing stings on Doing Dealers, or is that not profitable enough for you and Fox News. he is a very sick man and he needs some help. To that end any man or woman that ruins so many families maybe 4 or 500 thousand of them is akin to a "MASSCURE" and should be helled accountable for his actions. How can a man stand before our WhiteHouse and put the AWA act in law or any congressperson pass such a law, when in fact its a crime to do what they are doing to families and children with these laws. One child of his does not give him the right to " DESTORY SO MANY OTHER FAMILIES" he is a criminal as well as the ones that have passed the laws.None of them have even even took in to account that so many have paid their debt for their crime years ago. These people that have paid their debt, and have families, good jobs, and are happy today doing things with their children, baseball, vacations, disneyland, Mc Donalds living the American dream that so many have come here for "FREEDOM" which is a word that John Walsh will never admit to because he is so full of HATE! that he will punish anyone no matter what the age they are. From a CHILD to a 80 year old man. A very sad and and sick man John Walsh is to do thsi to families. This man has no life but to see howmuch he can make off his shows, books, tapes, and guess what. He " CAN"T EVEN PROVE THAT IT WAS A SEX OFFENDER" but that is his new found money maker and I guess the elected officals as well. One vote they get will ruin one family is it worth it Congress? Is it worth that money John Walsh to kill children who can't deal with the "EMONTIONAL STRESS ANYMORE" so they take their lives, or a mother or father leave their children behind and take their own lives, to protect them from the abuse that their parents paid for years ago? How do you sleep at night John Walsh? How do you sleep|? Knowing that you are killing so many people, that is murder by default for what maybe was a crime you committed, and caused your own sons tragic ending. There is more to John Walsh's life that I am sure we all will never know. I wonder if he had sex as a teen? Now he will have teens locked away and on a register. There is no hate here for him I just wish he would not hurt so many people.