BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                                                                  AB 543
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          Date of Hearing:   April 13, 2011

                        ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS
                                Felipe Fuentes, Chair

                    AB 543 (Torres) - As Amended:  March 31, 2011 

          Policy Committee:                              Public 
          SafetyVote:  7-0

          Urgency:     No                   State Mandated Local Program: 
          Yes    Reimbursable:              No

           SUMMARY  


          This bill makes it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months 
          in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000, for a registered 
          sex offender on parole or probation, whose victim was under the 
          age of 18, or who used the Internet in the commission of the 
          crime, to access an Internet social networking site.

          This bill also requires the informational statement registered 
          sex offenders must sign to include a notice regarding the social 
          networking site prohibition, if applicable.  

           FISCAL EFFECT  

          1)One-time software and programming costs, in the range of 
            $170,000, to the Department of Justice to change the sex 
            offender registration form. (DOJ is currently finishing its 
            redesign of the Violent Crime Information Network - VICN, 
            which will now be known as the California Sex and Arson 
            Registry - CSAR. Any proposed programming changes at this 
            point may be problematic until CSAR is fully operational in 
            2012.)  

          2)Minor ongoing non-state-reimbursable local law enforcement and 
            incarceration costs to the extent specified registered sex 
            offenders are convicted of accessing social networking sites.

          (There are currently about 2,650 high risk sex offenders on 
          state parole and about 160 on probation. Neither the CA 
          Department of Corrections (CDCR) nor probation tracks the age of 
          the victim. About 1,000 sex offenders are paroled monthly, 








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          including about 400 so-called high-risk sex offenders.)
           
           COMMENTS

          1)Rationale.  The author contends this bill will provide 
            additional protection from known sex offenders. "As the 
            Internet becomes today's playground, social networking 
            websites are increasingly being utilized by children and 
            youth. There must be clear restrictions on sex offenders' 
            access to these websites to protect our children online."

           2)Questionable Efficacy  . While it is common practice for 
            probation officers and parole agents to check a sex offender's 
            computer for inappropriate use, these officers do not 
            generally have the in-depth computer skills necessary to 
            detect inappropriate usage. Moreover, offenders can simply use 
            a computer at a different location and use a number of user 
            profiles.
           3)Overly Broad Nexus  ? Conditions of parole can only be imposed 
            if they have a nexus to the offender's criminal history. The 
            justification must be present for the condition to be valid. 
            If the condition is overly broad, or applied to a class in an 
            overly broad fashion, the Board of Parole Hearings will 
            dismiss the charge and order the condition removed and/or the 
            condition will be challenged in court.   

            This bill does not appear to establish a clear nexus between 
            an individual offender and the proposed ban on all social 
            networking sites, which are not used only by minors. The 
            author may wish to consider drawing a more specific nexus, by 
            limiting the ban to social networking sites commonly used by 
            minors, for example.  

           4)California Sex Offender Management Board (CSOMB) 
            Recommendations  . On May 1, 2010 CSOMB released a report that 
            underscores issues addressed by this bill and made two 
            relevant recommendations: 

             a)   Parole conditions should be narrowly drawn and relate to 
               the conviction offense. CASOMB stated, "The parole 
               restriction must either have a relationship to the crime of 
               which the offender was convicted, or be related to that 
               offender to deter future criminality. 

                  "In order to ban belonging to a social networking site 








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               as a condition of parole, there may need to be a factual 
               nexus to the offense or offender, such as a record of 
               seeking victims through newspaper or Internet ads, or 
               through social networking or dating web sites.

             b)   Parole needs to develop guidelines for checking parolees 
               banned from Internet use. According to CASOM, "When a ban 
               on Internet use is properly imposed as a parole condition, 
               such as communicating with minors over social networking or 
               other Internet web sites, the issue becomes how to enforce 
               the condition?. it should be understood that there are so 
               many social networking sites of various types that it may 
               be virtually impossible to enforce such conditions, 
               especially when the parolee uses a computer not at his or 
               her own home, or has a common name which makes searching 
               other databases impractical."

           5)Support.  According to the Child Abuse Prevention Center, " 
            Millions of California children who use the internet everyday 
            are at risk from sexual predators.  The internet has provided 
            an alternative avenue for predators to victimize unsuspecting 
            youth; child predators, in particular, are moving from the 
            playground to the web in their search for unsuspecting 
            children.  In this regard, AB 543 provides assistance in 
            limiting the ability for predators to victimize our children 
            via highly popular social networking channels."
           
          6)Opponents  contend this bill overstates the dangers of social 
            networking and underestimates the fact that most sex crimes 
            are committed by friends or relatives. A related legislative 
            memo from the New York ACLU states, "As for children under the 
            age of twelve who are the victims of child abuse, the 
            perpetrator in more than 90 percent of such crimes is a family 
            member or a known friend of the family. Kidnapping or sexual 
            abuse of a child by a stranger is an extremely rare 
            occurrence. These findings and observations are consistent 
            with the results of on-line sting operations, including sweeps 
            of networking sites. Aggressive policing of the internet has 
            uncovered few instances of registered offenders engaged in 
            criminal conduct." 

            According to the CA Public Defenders Association, "This 
            proposed legislation is unnecessary, wastes money and 
            endangers the public.  Evidence based research recognized by 
            the California Sex Offender Management Board shows that 








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            reintegration of sex offenders into the community reduces the 
            risk of re-offense.  That means that 290 registrants need jobs 
            and housing in order to maintain stability and rebuild their 
            lives.  If sex offenders are able to find gainful employment 
            and appropriate housing, they are less likely to re-offend, 
            thus less likely to endanger the public. 

            "Currently, many people finds jobs through social network 
            websites; i.e., Craig's List, Facebook or Twitter.  Indeed, 
            facilitating job searches is an advertised focus of social 
            networking sites.  Many companies have Facebook accounts and 
            encourage users to follow their business on Facebook.  This is 
            even more likely to be true in the future.  To deny 290 
            registrants an opportunity to find employment is short sighted 
            and bad public policy.  

            "Further, this legislation is unnecessary as existing law 
            already authorizes the terms and conditions of probation or 
            parole to be tailored to achieve legitimate purposes of 
            rehabilitating a defendant to avoid future criminality. If the 
            particulars of the commitment offense make prohibition again 
            internet access appropriate under the circumstances, the 
            mechanism presently exists not only impose such a condition 
            but to enforce compliance through a violation of probation or 
            parole." 

           7)Related Legislation  . 

             a)   AB 2208 (Torres), 2010, was virtually identical to this 
               bill and was held on this committee's Suspense File.  

             b)   AB 1850 (Galgiani), 2010, would have prohibited a 
               registered sex offender on probation or parole from using 
               the Internet under certain circumstances. AB 1850 was held 
               on this committee's Suspense File. 

             c)   AB 653 (Galgiani), 2011, pending in Assembly Public 
               Safety,  requires a registered sex offender to report his 
               or her Internet accounts and Internet identifiers to local 
               law enforcement, including e-mail addresses and 
               designations used for the purposes of chatting, instant 
               messaging, social networking, or other similar Internet 
               communication.   










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           Analysis Prepared by  :    Geoff Long / APPR. / (916) 319-2081