Popular online social network MySpace said on Tuesday it has identified, removed and blocked "a few thousand" user profiles of convicted sex offenders, as part of a program to protect its young members from adult predators.
The action comes a day after eight U.S. attorneys general demanded that the News Corp.-owned company hand over offenders' names and addresses, and delete their profiles from among MySpace's 175 million user base.
"We've made it clear we have a zero tolerance policy against convicted sex offenders," MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a phone interview on Tuesday. "We've said numerous times that the goal was to delete them."
Nigam said he was puzzled over the law enforcement authorities' actions on Monday, which he said would require MySpace to break the law.
"While numerous Attorneys General have asked us to turn the names of the sexual predators over to them, we are, unfortunately, prohibited by federal and state laws from doing so," Nigam said in a statement.
The AGs' demands preceded a hearing on Tuesday for the "Protect Children from Sexual Predators Act" in North Carolina, a bill backed by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper that requires online services such as MySpace to check the ages of members. Cooper is one of the eight AGs pushing MySpace to disclose the information.
The company said it was prohibited by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which protects a user's electronic communication against government surveillance without a court order.
MySpace has come under attack over the past year after some of its young members fell prey to adult predators posing as minors. The families of several teenage girls sexually assaulted by MySpace members sued the service in January for failing to safeguard its young members.
MySpace and background verification company Sentinel Tech Holdings Corp. said late last year they planned to develop the first U.S. national database of convicted sex offenders to make it easier to keep track of predators.
The company also vowed to give free access of the database to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, a group which helps law enforcement in their investigations.
Convicted sex offenders are required by law to register their contact information with local authorities. But the information is only available in regional databases and has never been available on a national scale.
There are about 600,000 registered convicted offenders in the U.S.
One part of the new technology was made available on May 2 to MySpace, which began cross referencing its user profiles against the new database, Nigam said.
The profiles of suspected offenders were then manually checked by a MySpace staff member before users were removed and blocked from the service, Nigam said.
U.S. lawmakers in January proposed requiring sex offenders to register valid e-mail and instant messaging addresses with law enforcement authorities to better protect kids using sites like MySpace.
"We are doing everything short of breaking the law to ensure that the information about these predators gets to the proper authorities," Nigam said. "MySpace stresses that it does want to work with the Attorneys General to find a way to make sure the information gets into the right hands."
Nigam said the company is still working on a more efficient system to provide updates of information on offenders deleted from the site to the missing kids group.
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