Governor Tom Corbett signs into law the "Adam Walsh Bill," Senate Bill 1183, which strengthens the state's rules on convicted sex offenders by imposing tougher reporting standards. The bill also closes loopholes in Pennsylvania's current Megan's Law, ensuring certain offenders will not be able to evade criminal prosecution.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
You can see more online and offline vigilantism, here.
By Giuseppe Valiante
MONTREAL – Quebec's provincial police issued a warning to all those would-be cyber-sheriffs who try to catch suspected online predators: Watch out. Vigilantes have no protection under the law and could be charged.
In a news release, police said those who pretend to be under 18 to lure suspected online predators risk receiving illegal material such as photos of child porn.
Any “web-sheriff” caught breaking the law to catch a suspected criminal could face criminal charges, police said.
Moreover, police said information collected by a citizen is rarely admissible as evidence in court.
“We released this warning to avoid well-intentioned people embarrassing themselves,” said Sgt. Claude Denis.
These so-called cyber-sheriffs are part of the first generation of people who grew up with the Internet and who are becoming adults, said Derek Ruths, assistant professor with McGill University’s School of Computer Science.
These people are aware of the dangers online, feel empowered by the Internet and feel they have a stake in it, said Ruths, who researches online communities.
“They feel a real lack — and I think it’s justified — a lack of governance online,” he said, “and they are trying to build some safety.”
Dany Lacerte is one example. The young Quebec City father started a Facebook page to track and expose suspected online predators.
He joined a popular online meeting site and created a fake profile of a 13-year-old girl. He said he catches about five men a day and tries to film them over an Internet video-chat site.
However, he didn’t blur the faces of the men he allegedly caught before posting videos of them online. He has been threatened with a lawsuit from one of the men he filmed.
Earlier this year, a group of teens dressed as superheroes are gaining notoriety for a series of videos they posted in which they confront alleged pedophiles in Chilliwack, B.C.
In a spin-off of Dateline NBC's To Catch a Predator, the boys pose as teen girls in chats with men looking for sex, then arranged to meet the men at fast-food restaurants in the city.
"They didn't realize the dangers that go along with what they have done. I don't think they really did take into account they were potentially putting kids at risk and their community," RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Tammy Hollingsworth said at the time.
QMI Agency's French investigative unit has also tried to highlight the dangers of the web. The unit set up a fake profile on a section of a meeting site. Posing as 13-year-old "Helodie," reporters easily entered a sex-chat section that's supposed to be restricted to adults and quickly drew the attention of 50 people.
Ruths said there is a difference between someone acting as a watchdog and contacting police when they notice illegal activity, as opposed to someone breaking the law themselves.
However, he said that police shouldn’t be surprised if the number of web-sheriffs increases as long as the perception persists that authorities aren’t doing enough to police the Internet.