Wednesday, New York Governor David A. Paterson was joined by various state officials as he signed legislation designed to protect children who access social networking sites from convicted sex offenders.

"New York State must do everything it can to protect our children from sexual predators," said Governor Paterson. "Many of these individuals are able to prowl the Internet with anonymity, and this legislation will help us to identify these individuals and restrict their access to Web sites used by children. I urge social networking site providers to take advantage of the new information in the Sex Offender Registry in order to prevent offenders from accessing their Web sites, making the Internet safer for children."

Under New York State's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) maintains a computer registry of the names and addresses of convicted sex offenders, and that information is made available to the public. Unfortunately, sex offenders remain free to create screen names and access social networking sites used by children, and our laws do not effectively prevent that use.

The Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP) seeks to address that problem by: (1) requiring convicted sex offenders to register their Internet screen names with the Sex Offender Registry; (2) allowing social networking Web sites to obtain those screen names in order to prohibit those account holders from accessing Web sites on which they could contact children; and (3) mandating that dangerous convicted sex offenders who are serving a term of probation, conditional discharge or parole be prohibited from using the Internet to contact children.

"I applaud Governor Paterson for signing e-STOP into law and giving New York the nation's most comprehensive protection against sexual predators on the Internet," Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo said. "The Internet has proven a useful tool for sex offenders to prey on the innocent, especially children, and I proposed the law because it is imperative that protections keep up with the rapid changes in technology. e-STOP is a powerful tool and has the potential to save lives, and I am grateful this state is setting an example and leading the nation with this groundbreaking law."

"The Internet is a wonderful tool that offers young people a world of information and it's a fun way to communicate with their friends," Ernie Allen, President of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said. "Unfortunately, it can also be used by individuals who seek to develop 'cyber-relationships' with children in order to victimize them -- some of whom may be registered sex offenders. The e-STOP law is a significant step towards protecting children online. We're grateful to Governor Paterson, Attorney General Cuomo, and the New York State Legislature for their efforts in enacting this law."

As a result of e-STOP, DCJS will begin sending out approximately 25,000 letters to sex offenders who are in the Sex Offender Registry advising them that they must register any Internet and e-mail accounts used for purposes of online chatting, instant messaging or social networking. DCJS will advise offenders that if they change their e-mail address or create a new online profile, they must notify the state within 10 days -- and failure to comply with the registration requirements is a felony.

The bill, which was sponsored by Senator Dean Skelos and by Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, takes effect immediately, and the new requirements relating to registering Internet screen names apply to all sex offenders who currently are registered or who must register in the future.