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Behold what happens when the issue of online security is taken seriously by the right mix of legal entities and online companies. People listen, get involved and forward progress is achieved. New York is now officially the epicenter for online safety legislation.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have announced legislation they called “groundbreaking” in its proposed restrictions and controls of sexual offenders’ online activities.

The Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP) responds to the widely documented use that sexual offenders make of the Internet, in particular social-networking sites, to stalk and victimize people, particularly minors.

Granted, this is a NY-State only bill, and relying on sex offenders to register their email address is far-fetched, but it’s a step in the right direction.

This is legislation boasts the promise of having a real impact, and just as importantly, announces the coming together of various legal and commercial entities to cooperate on a solution that effectively safeguards consumers.

But additional parole and probation mandates would be applied for Level 3 sex offenders — considered the most likely to offend again — as well as those who have committed crimes against minors and offenders who used the Internet to find victims. While on parole, they could not use social networking sites, access pornography, communicate with minors online, or communicate with anyone for the purpose of sexually abusing children.

It would not apply to sex offenders who live in other states but attempt to contact children or teens in New York.

Deja vu all over again. Why can’t this go directly to Capital Hill and avoid the state-by-state introduction of the legislation? If you live in New Jersey, you’re going to have to get in a car and drive into Manhattan in order to do something stupid and end up on To Catch A Predator. Want to perv from the comfort of your own home? No problem.

What if you’re a dating site that also features a social networking component? Which set of rules are you legally responsible to follow? Who is putting together the guidelines for enforcement? Is the NY and NJ cybercrime units involved? If so, how?

One thing I know for sure, after my fascinating conversation with Iovation last week, I bet they could make a fortune focusing on authentication services for predators.

The federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 includes “Internet identifiers” among the information collected on registered sex offenders, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

There is even a law that drives demand for “fingerprinting” computers.

As the state urged the sites to make changes to protect children and teens, the sites found it difficult to act without legislation in place.

Of course, no online social network is going to expend resources policing their members. Let people flag each other for inappropriate behavior. All it takes is adding a button to all profiles.

Prediction: this legislation will overshadow, and hopefully inform, the flawed Online Dating Safety Act.

What will keep people safer, a notice about background checks on the home page or a bill going as far as monitoring and restricting the online activities of sex offenders? My guess is the latter.

I would argue that children are more at risk than adults and we should focus our efforts on effective prevention rather than marketing messages. I don’t know the numbers offhand, but how many adults run into serious trouble on dating sites compared to kids on social networks?

How to balance the desire to run a profitable business with the needs of your members? A slippery slope indeed. Identify verification and background checks, while useful, should not be mandatory and definitely need to be more thorough, even if that means more expensive, in the long run.

If Myspace can put together a bi-lateral industry task force, why can’t the online dating industry? Why are we relying on the SODA Alliance and poorly constructed legislation? I can’t make much of a judgement about SODA except that in three years they have never responded to repeated requests to learn more about the organization.

In my mind, I cannot help but think that SODA is not representing the best interests of the online dating industry. Perhaps there are a few souls who are involved to do the right thing, but the lack of transparency into the organization is troubling.

Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) is another bill of interest, this one having to do with schools and libraries protecting minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms. Danah Boyd’s article on Myspace has more information about DOPA.

Interesting to note that:

76% of the unwanted solicitations came from fellow children. This includes unwanted date requests and sexual taunts from fellow teens. Of the adult solicitations, 96% are from people 18-25; wanted and unwanted solicitations are both included. In other words, if an 18 year old asks out a 17 year old and both consent, this would still be seen as a sexual solicitation. Only 10% of the solicitations included a request for a physical encounter; most sexual solicitations are for cybersex.

Information for this article was culled from Infoworld, Newswatch, and Yahoo! News.

Obviously, bad things will continue to happen to unsuspecting souls on the internet. It’s up the legal and business parties involved to come together and collaborate on a solution that’s best for everyone.

In other legal news, The New Hampshire Legislature is set to review a bill that aims to fix a loophole whereby public-urination offenders could end up on the non-public sex offender registry if convicted twice in a three-year period.

The more time I spend reading up on our legislative process, the more I wonder how anything actually gets done under the gilded domes of our statehouses.

A final bit of depressing news:

If in doubt, report it! If you believe that a predator is communicating with you or your child, you must report it. In every case where a child is molested or killed by an Internet sexual predator, law enforcement find messages sent to the predator by parents threatening to report them. Do not hesitate to report it.

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