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Blumenthal, lawmakers want age verification rules for MySpace.com

HARTFORD, Conn. --Connecticut officials unveiled legislation Wednesday that would require MySpace.com and other social networking sites to verify users' ages and obtain parental consent before minors can post profiles.

The bill comes a day after a man was sentenced to 14 years in prison for using MySpace to set up a sexual encounter with an 11-year-old Connecticut girl. It was one of the first federal sex cases involving the popular networking site.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who met with other attorneys general on Tuesday, said 10 to 20 other states are considering similar legislation.

"The technology is available. The solution is financially feasible, practically doable," he said. "If we can put a man on the moon, we can check ages of people on these Web sites."

Under the proposal, any networking site that fails to verify ages and obtain parental permission from parents to post profiles of users under 18 would face civil fines up to $5,000 per violation. Sites would have to check information about parents to make sure it is legitimate. Parents would be contacted directly when necessary.

Blumenthal said Connecticut has jurisdiction under its consumer protection laws because the advertisements posted on the Web sites are seen in the state and therefore subject to state law.

In a statement Wednesday, MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam said the company is committed to protecting teens online but does not believe the proposed bill is the best way to do that.

"The most effective means to protect teens online is through a combined approach involving features and tools to make our site safer, educating our users and their parents, and working collaboratively with online safety organizations and companies," he said. "We have and will continue to focus considerable resources on developing effective ways to make our site safer. Attorney General Blumenthals proposal, while well intentioned, is not the answer."

The bill, which is scheduled for an informational hearing Thursday, would apply to any organized online networking organization, including chat rooms, Blumenthal said. State lawmakers are still finishing the legislation.

Parents, school administrators and law-enforcement authorities have been increasingly warning of online predators at sites like MySpace, whose youth-oriented visitors are encouraged to expand their circles of friends through messaging tools and personal profile pages. It has more than 100 million registered users.

In Connecticut, Blumenthal said there have been at least six alleged sexual assaults involving older men and underage girls tied to MySpace in the last year.

The site has responded to concerns by expanding educational efforts and partnerships with law enforcement. It also adopted new restrictions on how adults may contact the site's younger users and has helped design tools for identifying profiles created by convicted sex offenders.

The site's current policy bars children under 14 from setting up profiles. Users who are 14 or 15 can display their full profiles -- containing hobbies, schools and any other personal details -- only to people already on the teen's list of friends. Others see only the bare-bones profile, listing username, gender, age and location.

But MySpace relies on users to specify their age.

News Corp.'s MySpace is the largest social-networking site, with more than 100 million registered users.

State Rep. Christopher Stone, D-East Hartford, co-chairman of the legislature's General Law Committee, said Connecticut took the lead when it passed legislation allowing consumers to freeze their credit records to combat identity theft.

"Hopefully this will be the same," Stone said of the Internet bill. "Eventually, this will become the model for national legislation."

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