No Web for sex offenders

A new state law bars some ex-cons from most Internet use.

EWING, N.J. - New Jersey enacted legislation yesterday that bans some convicted sex offenders from using the Internet.

As the restrictions were signed into law, authorities noted that today's sexual predators are as likely to lurk at a computer keyboard as in a park or playground.

"We live in scary times," acting Gov. Richard J. Codey said before signing the bill he sponsored in the state Senate. "Parents have to worry about people preying on their kids even while they're in the safety of their own homes."

No federal law restricts sex offenders' Internet use. Florida and Nevada are the only other states to impose such restrictions.

Codey, who is filling in while Gov. Corzine vacations in the Caribbean, signed the bill at state police headquarters in Ewing because of its ties to law enforcement.

The bill restricts Internet use for offenders who used a computer to help commit their original sex crime, such as trying to lure a potential victim via electronic correspondence.

The law also may be applied to paroled sex offenders under lifetime supervision, but exempts computer work done as part of a job or search for employment.

Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D., Mercer) said the law, which she also sponsored, provides a needed update to Megan's Law, which requires sex offenders to register with the state after being released from prison.

"When Megan's Law was enacted, few could envision a day when a sex offender hiding behind a fake screen name would be a mouse-click away from new and unwitting victims," she said.

The state Parole Board supervises about 4,200 sex offenders whose sentencing guidelines call for lifetime supervision - regardless of whether their original crime involved the Internet.

The board last month approved rules banning those convicts from using Internet social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

The Parole Board imposed the new restrictions after state officials subpoenaed several sites and discovered hundreds of profiles registered to convicted sex offenders.

The legislation is the most recent in a series of actions taken this year to protect the public from sexual predators:

Attorney General Anne Milgram subpoenaed several social-networking sites to obtain lists of users convicted of sex crimes. A subpoena to MySpace.com found 268 New Jersey registered sex offenders with accounts.

In August, New Jersey joined at least 23 other states by making a sexual offender tracking program permanent after a two-year trial. As many as 250 paroled sexual offenders are now outfitted with satellite tracking bracelets.

This fall, the state held Internet safety training for hundreds of educators to enlist their help combating the online exploitation of children.

"I think, without question, we are now the toughest state in the country in terms of tracking sexual predators," Codey said.

Under the new law, sex offenders will have to let the Parole Board know about their computer access.

Convicted sex offenders must submit to periodic, unannounced examinations of their computer equipment and install equipment on their computer so its use can be monitored.

Parole officers can also order polygraph tests for those suspected of violating the Internet ban, said Parole Board chairman Peter Barnes.

Since the highest-risk sex offenders already wear electronic monitoring bracelets, authorities will know if they visit an Internet cafe or library, Barnes said.

Those caught using the Internet would face 18 months in jail and a $10,000 fine.