The National Center on Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) received an unexpected windfall last month when MySpace gave the group access to a new tool for identifying sex offenders.
The program, called “Sentinel Safe,” was designed by MySpace and Sentinel Tech Holding, an identity verification firm, to identify and remove convicted sex offenders from online communities.
With an estimated 135 million users, MySpace has been bombarded for years by allegations that it does not do enough to protect users who are minors from online predators. When Sentinel Safe was unveiled in December, MySpace acknowledged that the impetus was its ongoing negotiations about online safety with attorneys general in North Carolina and Connecticut.
What is unique about Sentinel Safe is that its database contains detailed records on more than 550,000 registered sex offenders, culled from previously unmerged registries from every state. MySpace pledged to provide round-the-clock staff to maintain the information in the combined national database “in real time.”
According to Ruben Rodriquez, NCMEC’s director of law enforcement affairs, the Sentinel Safe software will instantly identify registered sex offenders who put accurate information about themselves on their MySpace pages. The program includes high-tech image recognition software that is purportedly able to recognize and identify offenders in photos they upload to websites.
Whenever Sentinel Safe identifies an attempted posting by an offender, MySpace will immediately restrict that person’s access to its site and notify NCMEC of the attempt, Rodriquez said.
At that point, NCMEC’s sex offender tracking team – part of its newly formed case analysis and support division – will decide whether the identified offender is posing a threat to a child, and if so, will notify the U.S. Marshals Service, according to Kristen D. Anderson, deputy director of the new division. The decision depends on what the person says in the post, she said.
Anderson’s division will also have Web access to the Sentinel Safe database. In the next few months, NCMEC analysts will beta-test ways the database can best be used by NCMEC and law enforcement officials, Anderson said.
The Sentinel Safe announcement was made just weeks after four lawsuits were filed in California against MySpace and parent company News Corp. by the parents of teens in New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. The lawsuits allege the teens were solicited and sexually assaulted by adult sex offenders who contacted them through MySpace.
Last month, a federal judge dismissed the Texas case, saying the 13-year-old girl’s parents had a duty to protect her. The girl had listed her age as 18 on her MySpace page.