Quick, somebody give our lawmakers a crash course in computer technology. From the same part of the legislative brain that brought you computer voting machines comes a proposed law to have sex offenders register their e-mail addresses and instant-message screen names.

Here's how the plan would work: After the state obtained a predator'se-mail addresses, officials would turn them over to MySpace. Thecompany, using new software, would then block anyone using that e-mailaddress from entering the site.


Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, whichadvocates for reporting requirements, applauded the concept butquestioned how it would be enforced.

"It would be effective forthose offenders who have registered that e-mail address. But it is easyto change your e-mail address. You can change your e-mail address in 30seconds," Ahearn said.

Well, yes, that's precisely the problem, isn't it? Same goes for screen names. This is an emotionally satisfying legal proposal that is in fact almost completely useless--unless, of course, the goal is to catch recidivist sexual predators who are clueless about computers. Lawmakers, repeat after me: Technology is not a panacea. Technology is not a panacea. Technology is not a panacea...

P.S. Are you wondering about whether such requirements violate these criminals' civil liberties? Fear not:

One measure, which took effect July 1, requires Virginia's publicand private colleges and universities to submit the names and SocialSecurity numbers of tens of thousands of students to the state policefor cross-checking against sexual offender registries.

Some civillibertarians have challenged the constitutionality of such registries.But McDonnell, who hopes other Web sites popular with children andyoung adults follow MySpace's lead, dismissed such suggestions Monday.

"Weare certainly going to put public safety ahead of these civil libertiesconcerns," said McDonnell, who pointed to studies that show a highrecidivism rate among sex offenders.

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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