Thousands of Web sites with message boards or chat rooms would be encouraged to check their lists of registered users against a federal list of sex offenders, according to forthcoming legislation in the U.S. Congress.
The proposal says that such Web sites may--but are not required to--send a formal statement to the U.S. Department of Justice to request a list of sex offenders' e-mail addresses and screen names used for instant messaging.
A press conference is planned on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to announce the sex-offender legislation (PDF), a draft version of which was seen in advance by CNET News.com. Scheduled speakers include Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., Rep. Paul Gillmor, R-Ohio, and MySpace.com Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam.
"This bill provides social-networking sites, which are an increasingly popular way for kids to connect with their friends, with one more tool to help keep our children safe from dangerous predators on the Internet," Pomeroy said in response to an inquiry Monday.
The legislation may also help allay the public relations problems that News Corp.-owned MySpace has encountered after a series of incidents involving adults using the popular service to seek sex with youths. Earlier this month, for instance, MySpace said it had developed software to let parents know what their children were doing online.
Current federal law requires that sex offenders provide information to the federal registry including their name, Social Security number, home address, work address, license plate number, DNA sample, fingerprints, and palm prints.
Pomeroy's so-called "Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators Act," or KIDS Act, would add the requirement of providing an e-mail address, instant message name and any other "similar Internet identifier."
The offender's e-mail address and other Internet information would be generally exempt from disclosure to the public. Social-networking sites, however, would be permitted to request it in confidence from the attorney general.
Social-networking sites are defined as any commercial Web site that permits people to create their own Web pages and offers a "mechanism for communication with other users," which would include sites like Slashdot.org, Amazon.com, CNET's Gamespot.com and CNET Reviews.
A similar version of the KIDS Act has been drafted by aides to Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. One difference is that the draft Senate bill includes a revocation of supervised release for failure to register.
McCain has not introduced in the new Congress a related proposal from last year, which would force Web sites to report illegal images posted by their users or pay fines of up to $300,000 and delete Web pages posted by sex offenders.
Virginia's attorney general has also proposed an e-mail registration requirement for sex offenders.