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Attorney general nominee tackles issue

By Garren Shipley - gshipley@nvdaily.com

Sex offenders in Virginia should be barred from using social networking Web sites like MySpace and Facebook, according to the Democratic nominee for attorney general.

That's one of the proposals Del. Steve Shannon, D-Vienna, rolled out on Thursday in a conference call with reporters and bloggers announcing his Internet safety initiatives.

Banning those on the sex offender registry from using social networking Web sites would give pedophiles one less place to solicit children, Shannon said.

"I don't want these people on the chat rooms soliciting kids," he said.

"When it comes to people who are convicted of crimes that put them on the sex offender registry, we need to do everything possible within constitutional means to make sure they're put in a position where they cannot sexually exploit kids," Shannon added.

Illinois passed such a ban last week, and attorneys general in North Carolina and New Jersey have also promoted the idea, Shannon said.

Under Shannon's plan, bans from the sites would be included in sentences handed down by judges and juries.

"I'm open to other ideas to be sure that it's constitutional," he said.

Shannon also said he'd work for strong mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of online solicitation of minors.

Virginia's laws need to look more like tougher federal statutes, he said.

Child pornography is a serious problem in Virginia, Shannon said after meeting with members of one of the state's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

"As we took the tour, two agents literally showed me tens of thousands of computer addresses where child pornography had been sent from," he said.

Uploading pictures is often an indicator of future bad activity.

"If someone is uploading child pornography on to the Internet, one out of three will actually go on to victimize a child," he said.

Shannon said he'd devote more resources to the Computer Crimes Unit in the attorney general's office in an effort to crack down on the practice.

He also said he'd personally prosecute some of those cases in an effort to bring more attention to the problem -- something rarely done in the commonwealth.

"Keeping kids safe online is not a political issue. It's a requirement for Virginia and should be a requirement for every state," he said.

Shannon is running against state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax, who has been consistently polling ahead of the Democrat.

Election Day is Nov. 3.

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