State panel OK’s Internet dating-service bill

Posted on Tue, Mar. 25, 2008

State panel OK’s Internet dating-service bill

Is that online romantic match for you also a match for a registered sex offender — and should there be a law that lets you know?

Or is such a legal requirement just a virtual ”food fight” that one Internet dating service has launched against rivals for a competitive advantage?

Those concerns were bandied back and forth Tuesday at the state Senate’s Commerce Committee, which narrowly approved the ”Internet predator awareness and online safety act” despite the objections of companies such as Yahoo! and

The bill, a perennial loser in the Legislature, would require any Internet dating service to disclose online and by e-mail whether or not it conducts a criminal background check. If it does, it must tell the consumer that background checks are “fallible.”

The site would have to tell a user if it allows members to have criminal records, but it doesn’t have to say what that record is.

Only the dating service bans anyone with a criminal background from belonging, according to committee testimony. That led senators and rivals to question the company’s motives in pushing the bill. They noted that online networking sites, such as MySpace, are far more likely places for predators to lurk for children than dating-service sites.

”This doesn’t have to do with online predators as the bill says,” said Bill Ashworth, a lobbyist with Yahoo! “This is a food fight between and the rest of the Internet dating industry.” lobbyist Cynthia Henderson and Republican bill sponsor Ronda Storms of Valrico said the bill was being misrepresented.

“It does not require criminal background checks. All it does is require disclosure,”Storms said.

But doesn’t conduct background searches because they’re so unreliable, something that Republican Senator and former Alachua County Sheriff Steve Oelrich confirmed. He said criminal background checks are iffy things and would give ”a false sense of comfort” to users who could think that a ”Jack the Ripper” was really a ”Jack Robertson” until it’s too late.

”I can tell you there are just so may holes in that system. Even those in the criminal investigations business have a hard time finding out [criminal identities],” he said. “Do we do any fingerprinting — and the ultimate is a DNA test?”

Oelrich successfully amended the bill to require libraries to pass Internet safety protocols if they want to be awarded extra points when the state doles out grants.

© 2008 Miami Herald Media Company.

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