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The wrong way to go after child predators

Earlier this week I testified at a New Jersey State Senate hearing on a bill that would require online dating sites to run criminal background checks on registrants. The bill (S.1977) is part of a package of legislation designed to protect against child predators.

Unfortunately, as I warned the senators, regulations like these do little to deter real predators and might actually endanger visitors to online dating sites by giving them a false of security. A local New Jersey newspaper, the East Brunswick Home News-Tribune, agrees.

Singling out online dating sites for special regulation, while ignoring magazines, newspapers, and matchmaking services that operate offline, makes little sense.

Requiring criminal background checks would be even less effective. Does anyone seriously think that a convicted criminal would use his real name to register at an online dating site? As even the proposed bill itself acknowledges, “Anyone…can falsify a dating profile.”

And real child predators aren’t likely to go looking for victims at adult online dating sites. They are far more likely to lurk in chat rooms and social networking sites popular with young people.

Finally, I cautioned the senators that their bill is based on legislation introduced in a number of states that is specifically designed to benefit a single company over competitors who do not have an exclusive relationship with, an outfit whose criminal records database is notoriously incomplete.