By Mike Trinh
BOSTON - Is that new Facebook friend or Twitter follower a sex offender? How would you know?
For the third time since 2007, a Quincy lawmaker is leading an effort to change the state’s Sex Offender Registry law to require sex offenders to register their online social media handles and email addresses with the state.
It’s an effort first championed by former state Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, back in 2007, three years after Facebook was launched and quickly became the social media choice among college students, then high school kids and adults.
That year, the bill never made it out of the Judiciary Committee. In 2011, state Rep. Tackey Chan, D-Quincy, a former aide to Morrissey, refiled the bill with the same results.
This year, Chan has filed the bill again, along with 19 co-sponsors, and said he hopes it will have a better chance this time.
“So much of our world is not about physical presences anymore. There are many online presences now,” Chan said.
The bill would update the 2004 Sex Offender Registry Statute to adapt to changing technology and social media, Chan said, adding that sex offender registry laws have to evolve along with society.
Morrissey, now the Norfolk County district attorney, said his office has seen cases of sex offenders meeting young victims on the Internet. The current registry is not designed to stop or bring attention to online predators.
“At the time the sex offender registry went into effect, no one was paying attention to the computer and what it would mean in the future,” he said.
The bill would require all levels of sex offenders to register social media names and email addresses, but the registry’s website would only display the Internet identities of Level 3 offenders – the ones considered most likely to re-offend. People would have to contact their local police department for information on others.
Quincy Detective Lt. Patrick Glynn said having more in-depth information on sex offenders would give the police more avenues to check on them.
“It would be extremely helpful with the way social media has taken off,” he said.
The penalty for not registering online identities would be 6 months to 2 1/2 years in jail or a fine of not more than $1,000 – the same penalty sex offenders face for failing to register addresses and phone numbers.
John Reinstein, senior legal counsel at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a written statement that forcing sex offenders to list their online identities is an invasion of personal privacy that would not likely improve public safety. Instead, he said, it would just make the people in the registry more vulnerable to harassment and isolation.
“If the goal of the statute is to reintegrate sex offenders into the community and to prevent re-offense, this is not the way to do it,” he said.
However, Reinstein also said that it may be appropriate for offenders caught conducting their crimes on the Internet to register online identities as part of their probation.
“To the extent that an individual sex offender’s offense involves the use of the Internet for unlawful purposes, such regulation may be appropriate as a condition of probation,” he wrote.