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State AG Calls for Changes to Fight Child Predators

State Attorney General Roy Cooper wants social-networking Web sites to get parental permission before children are allowed to submit personal information.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — State Attorney General Roy Cooper testified Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss proposed changes to state law, including increasing punishment for sex predators and better regulation for social-networking Web sites.

Cooper called for social-networking Web sites like MySpace.com and Facebook.com to get parental permission before children are allowed to submit personal information. He said those types of Web sites make it easy for sex predators to find victims.

"We know they are using these sites because you have kids who are on the site with their pictures up, information about themselves," Cooper said. "They go in and there are dozens and dozens of kids that they can groom and target as their next victim."

Cooper said the software is currently in place that can help Web sites verify ages of Web site users. Opponents have said that that process would not be reliable and online predators could find a way to circumvent the system.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to have further discussion on the bill proposed by Cooper. The committee will discuss next Tuesday before possibly sending it to the full state Senate.

Law enforcement officers who fight cyber crimes are busier than ever. According to the State Bureau of Investigation, the number of defendants convicted in North Carolina jumped from 21 in 2004 to 48 in 2006. Most of the cases involved online solicitation and child pornography.

Local towns like Cary are already taking steps to improve officers chances of catching online criminals. The Cary Police Department now has a cyber crimes unit as well as police departments in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

"There is a constant trend to go up. It really is a proactive step to prevent problems," said Cary police Chief Scott Cunningham.

Cooper also wants to arm officers with better tools to track down predators. The proposal would also make it a felony for a convicted sex criminal to be on Web sites where children are members and a requirement for anyone who discovers a pedophile to turn them in.