By Kenneth Li
News Corp.'s MySpace filed a request on Monday in a Pennsylvania state
court to seek guidance on how it can legally provide local authorities
with the private e-mails of convicted sex offenders who had lurked on
A federal law prevents Internet service providers such as MySpace from
turning over a user's electronic communications without a search
warrant. But obtaining search warrants is difficult for offenders not
currently under investigation.
The request comes after some U.S. state authorities, including
Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, began seeking more
information on convicted sex predators who they worry could be using
MySpace to find child victims.
"We got the court order from Pennsylvania Attorney General Corbett,
which we can't comply with," MySpace general counsel Mike Angus said
in a phone interview.
The resolution is seen as a test case for how local U.S. authorities
and MySpace can cooperate in sharing information without violating
MySpace and a coalition of U.S. attorneys general reached an accord in
May on how the Web service could turn over information on convicted
offenders who register on its site. MySpace said it has deleted their
profiles from its service, but retained their information in its
MySpace has provided the profiles of offenders, such as names and
addresses, a process made easier after it contracted background
verification company Sentinel Tech Holdings last year to develop a
national database of registered sex offenders.
Before the database's launch in early May, sex offender data was
collected on a local level, making nationwide searches difficult.
However, MySpace has not provided private e-mail correspondence,
citing legal restrictions.
The service, popular among teens as young as 14 years old and young
adults who share their interest in music and new bands, has been the
target of adult predators over the past year.
U.S. state authorities began investigating the service after several
teens fell prey to adult predators posing as minors. The families of
several teenage girls, who said they were sexually assaulted by
MySpace members, sued the service in January for failing to do enough
to protect its members.
MySpace said it is restricted from complying with the Pennsylvania
AG's demands as the federal U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth
Circuit prevents the disclosure of electronic correspondences before
obtaining a search warrant.
"The 9th Circuit has determined that ECPA (Electronic Communications
Privacy Act of 1986) requires a search warrant to produce private
messages and unfortunately, in some cases, this is proving difficult,"
Angus said. "Absent an existing investigation, having the name of a
registered sex offender isn't enough to produce a search warrant."
It is now up to the state courts to decide whether disclosing the
private communications of its members is legally sound.
"We want Attorney General Corbett to get this information to provide
them with whatever they need to use in their investigation," Angus
said. But, "We don't want the information to become tainted."
Angus said MySpace has provided e-mail correspondence of sex offenders
to the Pennsylvania court, leaving it up to the court to release the
information at its discretion.
MySpace filed the request in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin
County, Pennsylvania on Monday morning.
Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited.
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