MySpace to Seek Court Help to Release Predator E-Mails

By Kenneth Li

News Corp.'s MySpace filed a request on Monday in a Pennsylvania state court to seek guidance on how it can legally provide local authorities with the private e-mails of convicted sex offenders who had lurked on its service.

A federal law prevents Internet service providers such as MySpace from turning over a user's electronic communications without a search warrant. But obtaining search warrants is difficult for offenders not currently under investigation.

The request comes after some U.S. state authorities, including Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, began seeking more information on convicted sex predators who they worry could be using MySpace to find child victims.

"We got the court order from Pennsylvania Attorney General Corbett, which we can't comply with," MySpace general counsel Mike Angus said in a phone interview.

The resolution is seen as a test case for how local U.S. authorities and MySpace can cooperate in sharing information without violating federal law.

MySpace and a coalition of U.S. attorneys general reached an accord in May on how the Web service could turn over information on convicted offenders who register on its site. MySpace said it has deleted their profiles from its service, but retained their information in its database.

MySpace has provided the profiles of offenders, such as names and addresses, a process made easier after it contracted background verification company Sentinel Tech Holdings last year to develop a national database of registered sex offenders.

Before the database's launch in early May, sex offender data was collected on a local level, making nationwide searches difficult.

However, MySpace has not provided private e-mail correspondence, citing legal restrictions.

The service, popular among teens as young as 14 years old and young adults who share their interest in music and new bands, has been the target of adult predators over the past year.

U.S. state authorities began investigating the service after several teens fell prey to adult predators posing as minors. The families of several teenage girls, who said they were sexually assaulted by MySpace members, sued the service in January for failing to do enough to protect its members.

MySpace said it is restricted from complying with the Pennsylvania AG's demands as the federal U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit prevents the disclosure of electronic correspondences before obtaining a search warrant.

"The 9th Circuit has determined that ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986) requires a search warrant to produce private messages and unfortunately, in some cases, this is proving difficult," Angus said. "Absent an existing investigation, having the name of a registered sex offender isn't enough to produce a search warrant."

It is now up to the state courts to decide whether disclosing the private communications of its members is legally sound.

"We want Attorney General Corbett to get this information to provide them with whatever they need to use in their investigation," Angus said. But, "We don't want the information to become tainted."

Angus said MySpace has provided e-mail correspondence of sex offenders to the Pennsylvania court, leaving it up to the court to release the information at its discretion.

MySpace filed the request in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania on Monday morning.

Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited.

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