TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State lawmakers are trying to plug a loophole that is letting potential sex offenders destroy evidence before it can be seized, and the suspected offenders are getting help from the people who tipped off police in the first place.
When web services like Gmail, Facebook and others find child pornography in a subscriber's account, they notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It, in turn, calls local police. They get a subpoena for the material and send it to the provider.
“So the 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,” Rep. Chris Latvala said.
The suspected offender is notified, potentially leading to more crimes.
“Evidence could be destroyed. Children can be coerced," Brevard County sheriff's agent Michael Spadafora said. "We did one case where we had to force entry into a house and the individual is running CDs through a shredder.”
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 the legislation, but they are apparently 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.
Latvala, a sponsor of the bill, said the loophole exists for just one reason.
“These companies are more concerned with their trade secrets or their products than doing the right thing,” Latvala said.
Police said they need at least six months before suspects are told about the investigation.
That’s because the 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 is 180 days old. The current legislation only changes the time the companies must wait before telling subscribers that investigtors are looking at their account.