The governor of New York is banning paroled sex offenders from playing Pokémon Go and asking that the game’s creator block those homes from attracting players.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo directed the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to restrict sex offenders under community supervision from using Pokémon Go and similar games.
Both the letter and the new directive come in the wake of a report by state Senators Jeffrey Klein and Diane Savino which showed that 73 percent of the 100 sex offender addresses checked were within a half-block of a Pokémon , a Pokémon stop or a gym in New York City. You can read the full report below.
He also sent a letter to Pokémon Go developer Niantic requesting their assistance in prohibiting dangerous sexual predators from playing Pokémon Go or using the game to literally lure children to their homes.
"Protecting New York’s children is priority number one and, as technology evolves, we must ensure these advances don't become new avenues for dangerous predators to prey on new victims," Governor Cuomo said in a prepared statement. "These actions will provide safeguards for the players of these augmented reality games and help take one more tool away from those seeking to do harm to our children."
In the report, the two outlined two solutions for what they believe is a game that while encouraging children to go outside and become physically active, also "creates an alarming safety issue that must be addressed immediately."
1. Legislation: Active Sex Offender Ban on Augmented Reality Games Currently, sex offenders in this category are banned from using social media, but the statute is not clear on whether a game such as this constitutes social media. This legislation uses the IDC’s new definition of "augmented reality games" to ban sex offenders on probation or conditional discharge pursuant to §65.10 of the New York Penal Law from downloading or playing any augmented reality game. This bill would keep the game out of the hands of known sex offenders with a recent history of offenses against children.
2. Legislation: In-Game Sex Offender Residence Restriction This new legislation would place restrictions inside the game that would prevent children from playing the game near a sex offender’s primary residence. The provisions include the following:
In-game objectives cannot be located within a 100-foot radius of the sex offender’s home.
The game developer must obtain information regarding all publicly-listed sex offender addresses from the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) website, and must update this information on a monthly basis.
The attorney general will have the power to enforce the provisions of the act, including issuing cease and desist orders against the game developer in the event that they are not complying with the act.
Penalties include a maximum $100 per day fine for each location in the game that does not comply with the exclusion requirements in the act. These fines could be substantial, as there are thousands of sex offender residences around the state.
While the governor’s letter and directive to the department of corrections and community services, doesn’t carry the weight of law, it could be seen as a stopgap until such a law is passed.
We’ve reached out to Niantic, the governor’s office and the offices of both senators for both reaction to the request and to find out if a law or laws are in the works. We’ll update this story when they respond.
"Pokémon Go entertains our children, but it forgets about the reality of this world: it can be dangerous. Sex offenders who download the game legally could pinpoint hot spots where children congregate, like Pokémon stops or gyms, and meet them in person," Savino said in a prepared statement included with the governor’s press release. "The investigation I conducted revealed that these spots were located near the homes of these dangerous individuals. I will continue to fight for legislation to keep our children safe. I thank Governor Cuomo for immediately responding to our investigation in the interest of children across New York State."
Klein said in another statement that Pokémon Go provides sex offenders with a "virtual road map to our children.
"We know that pedophiles always seek new ways to lure victims and this new technology that entertains our kids, could also bring them close to dangerous individuals instead of Pokémon," he said. "In fact, my Pokémon Go investigation uncovered a disturbing correlation between high level sex offenders' residences and in-game objectives. While this directive is a good first step, there's still more work to be done legislatively to protect children who use this technology and I will continue to monitor this situation. I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking action on my investigation within 48 hours to protect New York's children."
The July study, entitled How Pokémon Go and Augmented Reality Games Expose Children to Sex Offenders, looked at the primary addresses of sex offenders in each borough of New York City. The list was prioritized using residential addresses of sex offenders who are currently under supervision and whose crimes involve the sexual abuse of children or the possession of child pornography.
The researchers then visited 100 of those addresses to see what in-game activities or objectives were located in the area of the sex offenders’ addresses. They also used maps created by MapPokémonGo and cross-referenced the Pokémon stops and gyms found there with the addresses they had. Finally, they looked at portals used in Niantic’s Ingress, which uses the same GPS coordinates and locations and Pokémon Go.
The findings show that there was a Pokémon directly in front of a sex offenders home 57 percent of the time and Pokémon stops or gyms were located within a half block radius 59 percent of the time.
The report also notes how seemingly hard it is to use Niantic’s existing system to have a stop or gym relocated and that filing a complaint over inappropriate behavior seems to generate a response that tells the complainant to contact their local law enforcement.
The senators sent a copy of the report along with a letter to Niantic yesterday.
Under current New York State law, sex offenders are classified as low, moderate and high risk of committing another sex crime and harm to the community.
As of Jan. 21, 1996, anyone who is on parole or probation or incarcerated for a sex offense must register with the state as a sex offender. A sex offender who is on parole or probation can be prevented from living within 1,000 feet of a school or other facility caring for children. Local laws in New York can include further restrictions.
The state maintains a publicly available database of registered sex offenders which includes their crimes, details about the person and where they currently live. Level one, low-risk offenders must register for 20 years to life depending on the crime. Level 2 and level 3 offenders must register for life.
In his letter to Niantic CEO John Hanke, Governor Cuomo points out that the state’s Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (which he introduced as the state’s attorney general) requires sex offenders to register and keep up-to-date all current email accounts, screen names, and any other Internet identifiers with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
That list is then given to more than two dozen social networking companies on a weekly basis and those sites use it to purge offenders from their membership rosters, according to the letter.
Concerns over Klein and Savino’s report as well as the ability for a sex offender to purchase a lure in the game to attract children to their home, or close to it, prompted the governor to direct the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services to reach out to Niantic.
He writes in his letter (which you can read below) that the division will be providing "the most up-to-date information of offenders within the Sex Offender Registry.
"With this information, we hope you will be able to prevent identified sex offenders from using this game," he writes. "DCJS will also contact Apple and Google to inform them of these public safety concerns and will work with them to enhance user safety. Software developers that operate augmented reality games like Pokémon Go should be entitled to the same information that is regularly shared with companies like Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.
"Pokémon Go has generated enormous popularity among users across New York and beyond. Through these common sense actions, we can together act swiftly to create a safer environment for Pokémon Go players and all New Yorkers."
Update: Added an explanation of current sex offender state law in New York.