SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday directed the Los Angeles County sheriff to help determine whether Internet-related crimes are a significant problem requiring new state laws.
Brown signed into law a bill that requires the Sheriff's Department and the Alameda County district attorney to collect statistics in their counties for one year on identity theft, child molestation, stalking and other crimes involving the Internet.
"One of the most effective weapons in the fight against cyber-crime is accurate data and information,'' said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor.
State Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) introduced the measure a year after Facebook, Google, Twitter and other companies successfully lobbied to kill legislation she promoted that would have allowed parents to restrict their children's personal information on social networking sites and limit disclosure of information about adults.
Sheriff Lee Baca backed last year's bill and has serious concerns about the vulnerability of children and others on the World Wide Web, said spokesman Steve Whitmore.
The sheriff, who hosted a hearing on the issue in Los Angeles in October, has a Special Victims Bureau that investigates crimes against children, including those involving the Internet, Whitmore said.
"This bill is a first step in the process of looking at the privacy and safety issues for children on the Internet,'' Whitmore said. Baca "does believe that a statistical study is needed to determine whether new laws, like the one he supported last year, are needed.''
Last year, Google was among nine Internet firms that signed a letter opposing Corbett's proposal that would have required them to let parents edit their children's Web postings to exclude information such as home addresses and phone numbers. It also would have ordered the sites to promptly remove adults' personal information upon request.
That measure would have authorized fines of up to $10,000 for violations.
The firms said last year's bill would have violated the U.S. Constitution by improperly restricting interstate commerce and curbing free speech. They also argued that Corbett had no solid evidence of a crime problem involving social network sites, said Andrew Lamar, a spokesman for Corbett.
In advocating the counties' study this year, Corbett told colleagues that it would help determine whether new regulations are justified.
"It is high time to track the criminal activity we know is occurring via the Internet, social network sites and smartphones,'' Corbett said. "We need to understand exactly what is happening so we can respond appropriately."
Corbett cited a study by the Pew Internet Project that found that more than 90% of children age 12 to 17 go online regularly, including 70% daily, and that 73% of wired American teens use social networking websites.
One survey by the national Crimes Against Children Research Center found that one in five youths had received a sexual approach over the Internet in a one-year period, but that only a fraction of incidents were reported to the police or Internet companies.
The group also found that 7,010 people were arrested nationally in 2006 for online child sexual-exploitation crimes, up threefold from 2000.
The bill Brown signed Thursday, SB 561, had no organized opposition, according to a legislative analysis.
Asked if there is concern that the governor's action lays the groundwork for future legislation, Google spokesman Jay Nancarrow declined to comment. A Facebook spokesman did not respond to an email soliciting that company's opinion.