MySpace seeks advice in sex offender investigation

Social-networking service asks Pennsylvania court for guidance as it responds to state attorney general's request for e-mail content.
Written by Caroline McCarthy, Contributor
MySpace.com filed a request Monday in a Pennsylvania state court asking for guidance as the social-networking service responds to demands for information about convicted sex offenders using the site.

In the request, which was filed in the Court of Common Pleas in Dauphin County, home to the state capital of Harrisburg, MySpace said it is actively seeking advice on how it can legally provide authorities with registered sex offenders' contact information.

MySpace came under fire last month when a group of state attorneys general, including Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, wrote an open letter to the social-networking site demanding that it turn over data pertaining to registered sex offenders who have profiles on the site. MySpace initially refused, citing federal and state privacy laws, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986, that the company said prevented it from releasing such information.

But two weeks ago, MySpace announced that it planned to comply with the request to provide the states with sex offender data, acknowledging that it would have to deal with varying legal requirements in each state. The request filed in Pennsylvania is part of that ongoing plan.

"We're very pleased with how this process is working but our desire to provide certain information, such as the content of e-mail messages, is proving complicated under applicable law," the social network's executive vice president and general counsel, Michael Angus, said in a statement on Monday.

"Attorney General Corbett has requested we provide the content of e-mail messages of specific registered sex offenders identified by Sentinel Safe," Angus said, referring to the database that MySpace has developed through a partnership with identity verification firm Sentinel Tech Holding. "We want to provide those messages and today have filed a request with the state court in Pennsylvania, asking a judge for guidance on how best to provide the e-mail content without tainting any potential evidence that could help put a registered sex offender behind bars."

MySpace members can privately message each others' profiles through an e-mail system within the site.

According to MySpace, a federal court determined that the ECPA requires that a search warrant be issued before the social-networking service turns over the content of e-mail messages sent through the site, and that a positive identification through the Sentinel Safe database would not by itself suffice.

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