Faced with legal demands from state attorneys general, MySpace.com said today it will release data on registered sex offenders it has identified and removed from the popular social networking Web site.
The company, citing federal privacy laws, initially rebuffed a demand from North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and colleagues in seven other states who last week asked for data on how many registered sex offenders are using the site and where they live.
MySpace agreed today to provide the information to all states after some members of the group filed subpoenas or took other legal actions to demand it. The company said last week such efforts were required under the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act before it could legally release the data.
"Different states are going about it different ways," said Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for Cooper, who filed a "civil investigative demand" for the information.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal used a subpoena that "compels this information right away — within hours, not weeks, without delay — because it is vital to protecting children," he said.
"Many of these sex offenders may have violated their parole or probation by contacting or soliciting children on MySpace," Blumenthal said.
MySpace obtained the data from Sentinel Tech Holding Corp., which the company partnered with in December to build a database with information on sex offenders in the United States.
"We developed 'Sentinel Safe' from scratch because there was no means to weed them out and get them off of our site," said Mike Angus, MySpace's executive vice president and general counsel.
Angus said the company, owned by media conglomerate News Corp., had always planned to share information on sex offenders it identified and has already removed about 7,000 profiles, out of a total of about 180 million.
"This is no different than an offline community," he said. "We're trying to keep it safe."
ngus said the company had also made arrangements to allow law enforcement to use the Sentinel software directly.
Cooper, Blumenthal and attorneys general in Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania asked for the Sentinel data last week.
Social networking sites such as MySpace allow users to create online profiles with photos, music and personal information, and lets them send messages to one another and, in many cases, browse other profiles.
Cooper said the information from Sentinel could potentially be used to look for parole violations or help in investigations. He said lawmakers in North Carolina are considering legislation that would further restrict access to social networking Web sites, including one that would require parents' permission for minors to set up a profile.
Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann said sharing the information is a good first step toward enacting those kinds of protections.
"MySpace needs to do more, including implementing an effective age verification system that will make the site considerably safer," he said.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said his office will subpoena the records as well.
"I think once we find out the content of the messages — of course, it will depend on how long they retain that information — we may very well find that some of the messages included illegal enticement of a child," he said.