By Douglas Wood, Infoglide Senior Vice President
It’s an almost unbelievable story. Or maybe I should say, as a parent, I’d like not to believe that this sort of thing happens. Unfortunately, it does all too often. By now, you’ve probably heard the story of Brooke Bennett who was found murdered after being abducted by her uncle, Michael Jacques.
At first, the case of missing Brooke Bennett appeared to be a story of an abduction by an Internet predator who befriended the 12-year-old Braintree girl through her MySpace page. But now prosecutors charge her abduction was planned by an uncle with a history of sex crimes who used Brooke’s MySpace page and a series of e-mails he sent using aliases to plan her abduction while deflecting attention from himself. . . . Jacques has a history of sex crimes dating to 1985 when he was charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl about 100 times. Prosecutors eventually dismissed that case. In 1993, Jacques was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping. An affidavit in the case said Jacques tied up the victim and threatened to kill her while he sexually assaulted her. He was sentenced to six to 20-years in prison, but he was released early because of the Department of Corrections’ ‘good time’ policy in effect at the time.
The children and teens of today are the most connected of any generation we’ve ever seen. They don’t remember a time when the Internet didn’t exist, and they are avid fans of Web 2.0.
The scary reality is that sexual predators are also big fans of social networking sites, chat rooms, and other online tools, which they use to find, target, and lure their victims. In today’s world of Internet anonymity, known sex offenders are able to easily mask their identity by hiding behind a screen name and fabricated personal information. Imagine if you could post a photo of a known child predator all over a school campus, but the minute you got his photo up he was able to modify his appearance so as to be unrecognizable. Scary. However, it happens all the time online. Sex-offenders make changes to their personally identifiable characteristics such as name, address, and phone number to hide their identity and continue to victimize.
It is paramount that social websites be able to identify and ban known sex-offenders. In the absence of a system and method for determining possible matches between user sign-on data and known sex-offenders, the safety of our children is compromised.
Identity resolution technology can be easily applied to match user attributes against publicly available sex-offender lists and immediately send a real-time alert to system administrators; thereby preventing perverts from posing a threat to children’s safety via the Internet. These sites have a moral obligation to do everything they can to protect their most vulnerable members. The technology exists to fulfill that obligation. All it takes now is the desire.
Check back next week to read about what the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is doing to keep kids safe.