Kevin Poulsen, current Wired editor and former hacker, explains in a recent Wired article how using 1000 lines of code over several Perl scripts he was able to find an astonishing 744 sex offenders on MySpace. 497 MySpace users are found to have committed sex crimes against children, and six of these are considered to be repeat offenders. At least 243 of the 497 have had convictions after the year 2000.
So just how was he able to do this? In May he began an automated search of MySpace members for 385,932 registered sex offenders from 46 states, which were taken from the Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender Registry website. Searches were conducted by first and last names, as well as limiting results to a five mile radius of the sex offender’s registered zip code.
As one might expect, the automated search turned up a number of false results, as well as those that were unverifiable. Poulsen then took it upon himself to manually sort through the results, often comparing photographs, ages, and other data that could help to identify them.
The result of this little experiment is the confirmation of what many parents have feared for some time; that MySpace is the perfect place for sexual offenders and perverts to prey upon innocent and naive children. But, it has also resulted in the at least one police apprehension of a suspected sex offender – Andrew Lubrano, 39, of Suffolk County, New York – who has had four sex crime convictions in the past 20 years.
Poulsen has also decided to make the code he used to conduct this research available to the general public, and it can be downloaded from here. Poulsen has stated that anyone is free to tinker with the code, improve it, and discuss the methodology used.