Reporter's MySpace code leads NYPD to sex offender

Code comparing offender registries to MySpace profiles proves potent tool for law enforcement. Why isn't MySpace running similar programs to block offenders?

In an astounding story by Wired News' Kevin Poulson, the reporter/hacker details the bust of one Andrew Lubrano, a registered sex offender who did serious time for his offenses, and an active MySpace user who has been propositioning young teens on the social networking site.

Poulson found Lubrano by writing some code to cross-check online sex offender registries against private MySpace profiles - exactly the approach Fox Interactive Media's top lawyer told Congress was unworkable.

In May, I began an automated search of MySpace's membership rolls for 385,932 registered sex offenders in 46 states, mined from the Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Registry website -- a gateway to the state-run Megan's Law websites around the country. I searched on first and last names, limiting results to a five mile radius of the offender's registered ZIP code.

Excluding a handful of obvious fakes, I confirmed 744 sex offenders with MySpace profiles, after an examination of about a third of the data. Of those, 497 are registered for sex crimes against children. In this group, six of them are listed as repeat offenders, though Lubrano's previous convictions were not in the registry, so this number may be low. At least 243 of the 497 have convictions in 2000 or later.

... Lubrano stood out early in the results. His rap sheet was chilling, and by the time I found him, a half-a-dozen underage boys populated his friends list, many commenting on his message board. He lavishes particular attention on Jacob (not his real name), the 14-year-old in Virginia, lamenting the distance from his home on Long Island to the house Jacob shares with his grandparents near Washington D.C. -- about a six hour drive. "Damn," he writes, "it's a shame you don't live close by boy the things we can do."

Lubrano has been making dates to meet Jacob but he's never actually shown up. Under a NY appellate decision, merely soliciting online for sex is a misdemeanor not a felony. One has to actually show up or at least transmit pornography to a minor to get the felony rap. The cops trot Lubrano out as a poster child for a new law that would allow them to lock him up for more than 90 days.

Wired will release Poulson's code next week but the writer wants to know why MySpace isn't aggressively adopting similar technology to protect kids.

MySpace could do more. It should more diligently employ its technical resources to look for the signs of predation, perhaps automatically scanning the contents of private and public messages between adults and children for sexual content, backed up by a manual inspection. It's difficult to imagine any scenario in which a 39-year-old man should be calling a teenager "sex toy."

It's all up to MySpace. We can't count on parental supervision; how many teenagers looking for a space to hang out in with friends will accept one occupied by parents? We can't count on peer policing; nobody reported Lubrano for his inappropriate comments.