The Ultimate Online Predator Solution

by on October 17, 2006 · 12 comments

As I have written here before, the only way we are ever going to solve the online predator problem is to get serious about weeding out and prosecuting the vermin who commit crimes against children. As I pointed out last week in my response to Sen. Joe Lieberman’s online child protection manifesto, regulating Internet websites or online communications to solve this problem avoids the real issue: The bad guys don’t serve enough time and are out on the streets (and behind keyboards) because of our government’s failure to adequately punish them.

What got me thinking about all this again was this new Wired report by Kevin Poulsen. He explains how he helped New York law enforcement officials track down and apprehend a sex offender by writing a program that searched MySpace’s 1 million-plus profiles for registered sex offenders. Here’s what struck me about the specific perpetrator that they nabbed, a 39-year-old man named Andrew Lubrano:

“Lubrano was sentenced to three years probation in 1987 for sexual abuse against a 7-year-old boy, according to police. In 1988, he got another probation term for second-degree sex abuse. In 1995, he earned a 3 to 9 year prison term for sexually abusing two boys he’d been babysitting, one 11, the other 9. The parole board turned Lubrano down three times, and he was cut loose in September 2004 largely unsupervised, having served every day of his nine-year max. By November 2005 he was on MySpace, making friends.”

When I read stuff like this, I literally start screaming at my computer: “Why? Why? Why?” Why in the hell is this guy on the streets? Why is he even able to get online at all when he should be sitting in a jail cell? Why is it MySpace’s problem to solve instead of the government’s? And why is it my responsibility to have to monitor both MySpace and sex offender registries to see if these creeps might be preying on my children?


I have said it many times before but I will say it again: The most essential role that government has is to protect people from harm, especially helpless kids. It is not the job of private companies to enforce law and order or bring bad guys to justice. That is the government’s job. And they aren’t doing a very good job of it when it comes to online child safety. Here is the sobering fact that I keep pointing to in order to prove my point: A 2003 Department of Justice study reported that the average sentence for child molesters was approximately seven years and, on average, they were released after serving just three of those seven years.

Does that statistic make you as sick to your stomach as it does me? If you have two young children like me, I bet it does. When our government is only putting people who viciously hurt innocent children behind bars for just seven years and then letting them out after just three then our government has failed us at a very fundamental level.

Worse yet, policymakers then point fingers at everyone else and scold Internet companies and ISPs for not doing enough to protect children from predators, all the while conveniently ignoring the government’s own failed policies that allow those predators to be on the streets and behind keyboards in the first place! It’s not “market failure” at work when child predators are lurking behind keyboards, it is government failure in the extreme. And we are never going to solve this problem until we start hunting down the bad guys and locking them up for a long, long time.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    Adam, you didn’t mention parents. I think this is a glaring omission. Parents are far better positioned and far more interested in protecting children. Enough with the “lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key” table-pounding until you have exhausted the role of parents in protecting children.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    (You mentioned parents in the 4,000-word tome the other day, but you know what happens with 4,000 word tomeszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.)

  • Adam Thierer

    Harper… You know there is no bigger defender of “parental responsibility first” than me. Of the many papers and essays I have written making that point, I would just remind you of one in particular “Parents Have Many Tools to Combat Objectionable Media Content,” and invite you to read through it again to ensure yourself that my libertarian credentials are in order: http://www.pff.org/issues-pubs/pops/pop13.9contenttools.pdf

    But what I am talking about above are cases of crimes already perpetrated against children. That’s when responsibility clearly shifts to the government to do something. Unless you favor a “take-the-law-into-your-own-hands” Wild West approach to justice — and believe me when I say that I might consider it if anyone ever touched my kids — then you must have a plan to dealing with this problem that involves a role for government. And I think the government’s role should entail much longer sentences, not only to adequately punish these scumbags, but also to serve as deterrent to other potential bad guys out there who might be thinking about preying on our kids.

    You agree, right? Or have you gone and become chief counsel at NAMBLA? I always knew you were little strange when I hired you at Cato. (See, two can play this game, my old Padawan learner.)

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    On how many levels is this screwed up, Adam?

    I had to Google “Padawan” – and found the definition in the online edition of A Geek’s Guide to Outgeeking Your Geek Friends – in the Unlikely Event You Have Any. I feel your pain, though, and I’m sorry that when I started outgunning you intellectually here at Cato you had to scamper under a rock.

    And rather than making me cut and paste a link (to something I’m not interested in reading), could you at least make a hyperlink? Like this? Or have you only read the Star Wars entries in your Geek’s Guide?

    Now, what were we talking about? Aww, who cares.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    Adam, you didn’t mention parents. I think this is a glaring omission. Parents are far better positioned and far more interested in protecting children. Enough with the “lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key” table-pounding until you have exhausted the role of parents in protecting children.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    (You mentioned parents in the 4,000-word tome the other day, but you know what happens with 4,000 word tomeszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.)

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    I have written much harsh ink about these laws on my blog. Today, people would rather make them into lepers by forcing them in several states to live at least 1,000 feet away from any place that kids are known to congregate, and part of that includes religious institutions. Only Texas has started to debate just giving them the death penalty, whereas other states are content with giving them pissant penalties and then crying foul when they get all recidivist on them. I personally support at least giving them the option of choosing the death penalty at the sentencing phase, and in any recidivist case I think it should be the standard punishment.

    From what I have heard from down the grape vine from people I knew involved with some large churches, these problems are increasingly epidemic in American society. Many Christian churches are the forefront of fighting this problem at the psychological and spiritual levels, which are the only areas that this can be faught. The reality is that today’s victim is often tomorrow’s offender, which is why I have tongue-in-cheek argued that the only secular way to stop this is to euthanize or commit to a psych ward any kid caught up in this stuff.

  • Adam Thierer

    Harper… You know there is no bigger defender of “parental responsibility first” than me. Of the many papers and essays I have written making that point, I would just remind you of one in particular “Parents Have Many Tools to Combat Objectionable Media Content,” and invite you to read through it again to ensure yourself that my libertarian credentials are in order: http://www.pff.org/issues-pubs/pops/pop13.9cont

    But what I am talking about above are cases of crimes already perpetrated against children. That’s when responsibility clearly shifts to the government to do something. Unless you favor a “take-the-law-into-your-own-hands” Wild West approach to justice — and believe me when I say that I might consider it if anyone ever touched my kids — then you must have a plan to dealing with this problem that involves a role for government. And I think the government’s role should entail much longer sentences, not only to adequately punish these scumbags, but also to serve as deterrent to other potential bad guys out there who might be thinking about preying on our kids.

    You agree, right? Or have you gone and become chief counsel at NAMBLA? I always knew you were little strange when I hired you at Cato. (See, two can play this game, my old Padawan learner.)

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    On how many levels is this screwed up, Adam?

    I had to Google “Padawan” – and found the definition in the online edition of A Geek’s Guide to Outgeeking Your Geek Friends – in the Unlikely Event You Have Any. I feel your pain, though, and I’m sorry that when I started outgunning you intellectually here at Cato you had to scamper under a rock.

    And rather than making me cut and paste a link (to something I’m not interested in reading), could you at least make a hyperlink? Like this? Or have you only read the Star Wars entries in your Geek’s Guide?

    Now, what were we talking about? Aww, who cares.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    I have written much harsh ink about these laws on my blog. Today, people would rather make them into lepers by forcing them in several states to live at least 1,000 feet away from any place that kids are known to congregate, and part of that includes religious institutions. Only Texas has started to debate just giving them the death penalty, whereas other states are content with giving them pissant penalties and then crying foul when they get all recidivist on them. I personally support at least giving them the option of choosing the death penalty at the sentencing phase, and in any recidivist case I think it should be the standard punishment.

    From what I have heard from down the grape vine from people I knew involved with some large churches, these problems are increasingly epidemic in American society. Many Christian churches are the forefront of fighting this problem at the psychological and spiritual levels, which are the only areas that this can be faught. The reality is that today’s victim is often tomorrow’s offender, which is why I have tongue-in-cheek argued that the only secular way to stop this is to euthanize or commit to a psych ward any kid caught up in this stuff.

  • http://theshavedape.blogspot.com Don Long

    You asked “why” several times. The answer: liberalism. Liberals, like the infamous Judge Cashman from Vermont, believe these types of criminals need rehabilitation rather than punishment.

    Sexual predation is a “disease”, per liberalism, and is something that can be “recovered” from.

    It’s not. Locking them up and throwing away the key is the only option.

    The NBC series about online sexual predators has convinced me they are *everywhere*. The problem is epidemic, and to see politicians (Democrats, almost exclusively) talk about light sentences and rehab is ridiculous.

  • http://theshavedape.blogspot.com Don Long

    You asked “why” several times. The answer: liberalism. Liberals, like the infamous Judge Cashman from Vermont, believe these types of criminals need rehabilitation rather than punishment.

    Sexual predation is a “disease”, per liberalism, and is something that can be “recovered” from.

    It’s not. Locking them up and throwing away the key is the only option.

    The NBC series about online sexual predators has convinced me they are *everywhere*. The problem is epidemic, and to see politicians (Democrats, almost exclusively) talk about light sentences and rehab is ridiculous.

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