Proposed law would stop internet service providers from tipping off sex offenders

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - State lawmakers are trying to plug a loophole that's letting potential sex offenders destroy evidence before it can be seized.

The bad guys are getting help from the very people who tipped off police in the first place.

When web services like Gmail, Facebook, and others find child porn in a subscriber's account, they notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It, in turn, calls local police. The police get a subpoena for the material and send it to the service provider.

What happens next will stun you:

"So, then, Facebook, Google, some of the other social media sites will immediately let that account holder know there is a subpoena for their account and that law enforcement has subpoenaed them," explained Clearwater Representative Chris Latvala.

What happens after the perp is notified is predictable.

"Evidence could be destroyed, children can be coerced. We did one case where we had to force entry into a house and the individual is running CDs through a shredder," said Agent Michael Spadafora with the Brevard County Sheriff's Office.

Legislation moving at the state capitol would tell providers they can't tell the perp about the subpoena for at least six months.

None of the most familiar, big internet names have publicly opposed this legislation, but we're told they are working behind the scenes to make changes.

Through three committee hearings, only one independent data firm has suggested the bill goes too far.

"A doctor, a lawyer, a family's accountant could have their emails seized," said John Sawicki with Forensic Data Corp.

Sponsor Chris Latvala says the loophole exists for just one reason; "These companies are more concerned with their trade secrets or their products than doing the right thing."

Police say they need at least six months before suspects are told about the investigation. That's because these cases often involve a dozen or more young victims.

Current law already allows the collection of stored material for web services without a warrant as long as it's 180 days old. The proposed legislation only changes the time the companies must wait before telling subscribers law enforcement is looking at their account.