The ability to monitor and spy on someone on the Internet or offline should be hard. People have privacy, even those who have committed crimes, or at least they did at one time before Big Brother decided to rear his ugly head and monitor everyone.
By Loretta Park
Ten years ago, tracking where registered sex offenders traveled on the Internet was a piece of cake, one official says.
But today’s technology — all of the smartphones and tablets and the social media websites on the Internet — is making the job “a nightmare,” said Darrin Swain, a supervisor with Adult Probation & Parole.
And not every single registered sex offender is being monitored, either.
“The public thinks: If someone is a registered sex offender, that means they are supervised,” Swain said. “Registration does not mean supervision.”
Only those who are on parole, probation or incarcerated are being monitored, he said.
On Utah’s sex offender registry list, there are 7,021 offenders, said Steve Gehrke, spokesman for the Department of Corrections. Of those, 2,383 are serving sentences in Utah State Prison or a county jail.
Only 1,711 are on probation or parole. The remaining 2,927 offenders have completed their court-ordered sentences but are still required to register with a local police agency every six months.
Of the 7,021 offenders, 2,618 are required to be on the registry for life. The remaining offenders have different time lengths, ranging from 10 years after their sentence is completed to 25 years after.
Swain, who has been with the AP&P for 16 years, said technology today is very different from five or 10 years ago.
“It’s a nightmare for (parole officers),” he said. “Their job is a lot harder.”
“The difference from 10 years ago to today is day and night. There was none of this stuff to worry about.”
In the past, parole officers would visit the homes of offenders, check to see if their personal computers were registered with the office and then check the computers to see what sites the offenders have visited.
And that was only if a judge allowed sex offenders to have a computer. In the past, judges would order convicted sex offenders to stay away from the Internet.
Now, with smartphones and tablets, sex offenders can have easy access to the Internet.
And because of the case U.S. v. Mark Wayne Russell, judges cannot ban convicted sex offenders from computers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2010 ruled that judges cannot ban sex offenders from the Internet.
Swain said sex offenders, like the rest of the community, use the Internet for job searches, education and also for workplace duties.
“Today’s world is the computer,” he said.
And social network sites are sprouting almost faster than officers can keep track of them.
Jessica Farnsworth, the commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force with the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said most social network sites do monitor what is going on and report any misconduct to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
The center then contacts the local authorities in individual states, who then investigate.
“The offenders know kids are really into social network sites,” Farnsworth said.
She said parents think there are “safe” social network sites, but “there isn’t a social site we haven’t had an investigation (into), including Pinterest.”
And sex offenders are not just those on the state’s registry list, officials said.
“They’re only on the registry once we caught them,” Farnsworth said.
Swain said the sex offenders whom parents should worry about are those who have not been arrested yet.
Farnsworth said, in the past, parents were told to have computers in a public place in their homes.
“That is not practical today because the iPhones are computers, so parents need to protect their children,” she said.
The first step is to tell children they should always report any inappropriate message or photo they receive either as a text or chat.
She said parents need to help their children and teenagers have a plan in place “so, when it happens, and it does happen, they won’t be caught off guard” when they receive a picture of a body part.
Children and teenagers need to know it is not their fault if they do receive an inappropriate photo, and police should be contacted immediately.
Farnsworth also recommends parents “lock the family photos” so only those they want to see the photos of a vacation or family event can see them.
A man had seen a photo of two children in another state and had located them through the social network site, Farnsworth said. He attempted to kidnap the children but was arrested.
“Take all the measures you can to protect the images of your children,” Farnsworth said. “They’re not all 100 percent, but those pictures can be taken, and your children can start getting harassed.”