Social networking sites and message boards face the same regulatory burden as internet service providers (ISPs) in a new bill proposed by ex-US presidential candidate John McCain. McCain wants sites to report all child pornography to authorities.
Currently only ISPs have a duty to report suspected child pornography-related activity to the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. McCain's bill, though, extends that duty to social networking sites, and to all sites that carry message boards.
McCain's proposed law is mainly aimed at sex offenders, but contains the demands on social networking sites within it. It says that site operators who know of any activity relating to child pornography must "make a report of such facts or circumstances to the CyberTipline of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children."
McCain's proposed law says that it applies to any "social networking site, chat room, message board, or any other similar service using the internet."
The proposed law has been read twice by the Senate and must now be referred to a committee for discussion. It says that convicted sex offenders in the US will have to register their online identities with the authorities if new laws being proposed are passed.
If the bill became law it would create a significant extra regulatory burden on many sites, since a wide variety and large number of sites host message boards. The law would likely carry heavy penalties for site operators who did not notify authorities when offending material was posted.
Amidst fears that social networking sites have made it easier for sexual predators to target young people, McCain has also proposed in his law that sex offenders identify all their online aliases to authorities.
McCain last week introduced a proposal for his bill, Stop The Online Exploitation Of Our Children Act, which orders that convicted sex offenders register all email addresses, instant messaging names and chat room names so that they could be identified online. McCain proposed a 10 year jail sentence for those who fail to do so.
The biggest social networking site MySpace last week said that it would ban sex offenders from signing up to the site. This would, though, depend on a system of registration of digital identities such as that proposed by McCain.
The state of Virginia has also proposed a similar law. Attorney General Bob McDonnell backs the plan. "We require all sex offenders to register their physical and mailing addresses in Virginia, but in the 21st century, it is just as critical that they register any email addresses or IM screen names," he said. ®