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New York bill would require some game devs to track where sex offenders live

Two Pokémon Go bills introduced

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A player catches a Psyduck using AR mode in Pokémon Go

A group of New York State senators today submitted a bill to the state assembly that would require developers of augmented reality games such as Pokémon Go to ensure that objectives in their titles are not located within 100 feet of a sex offender’s current home.

Those who fail to do so could be fined as much as $100 a day, per a location.

A staff member for the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference said that the earliest the bill could go up for a vote would be when the senate convenes in January and that this bill is considered a high priority.

The bill is sponsored by Senator Jeff Klein and co-sponsored by Senators Diane Savino, Tony Avella, David Carlucci and David J. Valesky.

The same group also sponsored a bill that would prohibit sex offenders from playing augmented reality games.

According to a survey released by SurveyMonkey and reported on by Forbes, about 22 percent of Pokémon Go players are between 13 and 17 years old.

Both bills were submitted following a report by Klein and Savino which showed that 73 percent of 100 sex offender addresses checked in New York City were within a half-block of a Pokémon , a Pokémon stop or an in-game gym.

That report also sparked New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to direct the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to restrict sex offenders under community supervision from using Pokémon Go and similar games. That directive applies to about 3,000 registered sex offenders currently on parole.

Both the governor’s office and both of the senators who created the report sent letters to developer Niantic asking for its assistance in prohibiting dangerous sexual predators from playing Pokémon Go or using the game to literally lure children to their homes.

Letter to Niantic by Brian Crecente on Scribd

Niantic declined to say if the company would reexamine locations of Pokémon in its game prior to any enforcement by law. But the company did send Polygon the following statement after being asked about what impact a law might have on the game, the company and augmented reality gaming in general:

"One of our core missions at Niantic is to encourage safe outdoor play and exercise. We are always listening to our community and we have heard the concerns raised in recent days about Pokémon Go. We will always ensure our products comply with applicable laws. We also believe that parents know their children and neighborhoods best, and we encourage them to supervise their kids to enjoy Pokémon Go safely, as they would with any outdoor activity or phone app."

The proposed New York state senate bill:

Prohibits an augmented reality game developer from developing any augmented reality game that causes or allows any in-game objective to be located at, or accessible within a one hundred foot radius of the digital location corresponding with the recorded place of residence of a sex offender as defined in Article 6-C of the correction law; defines "augmented reality game" to be a digital application or game, typically accessed on mobile devices, including but not limited to; smartphones; tablets; or augmented reality glasses; which causes users to physically move to and/or personally interact with locations outside the user's place of residence for the purpose of achieving goals or moving from place to place within the game; authorizes attorney general enforcement.

If the bill is passed, the state’s attorney general will have the power to issue cease and desist orders against the game developer if they are not complying with the law. 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.

Reached for comment, the Entertainment Software Association had this to say:

"Pokémon Go is a fantastic entertainment experience sweeping not only the U.S., but played by tens of millions around the world. As with any other entertainment product or experience, we encourage parents to be involved with the game play of their family members, observe common sense precautions, and know with whom their children are interacting."

Kate Edwards, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, tells Polygon that the development of augmented reality games should bring with it an extra level of care.

"As game developers focus on the adaptation of augmented reality, they need to be keenly aware of the unique circumstances of how virtual information pertaining to the game spaces they create are associated with and relevant to the real spaces that people inhabit," she wrote in an emailed response to Polygon. "Such issues include not only child protection (as asserted by New York's proposed law), but also the recognition of privacy for homes and businesses, as well as for sacred sites such as houses of worship, cemeteries, and memorials. As we fervently support the ability of game developers to create the worlds and experiences they want to create as an artistic form of self-expression, we recognize that augmented reality bridges a gap that requires a new level of diligence as to how games may be misused, abused, and/or potentially encroach on inappropriate spaces."

We emailed and called the governor’s office for further comment. We will update this story when they respond.

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. Level 3 offenders must verify their addresses every 90 days with law enforcement.

As Attorney General in 2008, Governor Cuomo introduced the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act. The legislation mandates that sex offenders 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 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.

Since enacted, DCJS has sent approximately 52,000 records related to 18,544 New York state registered sex offenders of all risk levels to 40 technology companies each week in order to remove them from social network sites, according to the governor’s office.

Edwards said greater communication between developers and the public is a must for these sorts of games.

"Moving forward, it will be critical for organizations in positions of authority, as well as those representing spaces that may be sensitive to augmented reality games, to be forthcoming in providing the data that game developers can easily leverage," she said. "This will ensure that their games won't inadvertently enable negative practices like predatory behavior, trespassing, etc."

Update: Added a comment from the ESA.