Lawmakers looking to plug loophole when it comes to sex offender evidence

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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service
February 1, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- State lawmakers are trying to plug a loophole that is letting potential sex offenders destroy evidence before it can be seized.

When web services like Gmail and Facebook find child pornography in a subscriber's account, they notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The center, in turn, calls local police, gets a subpoena for the material and sends it to the provider.

What happens next may stun you.

"Facebook, Google and some of the other social media sites will immediately let that account holder know there's a subpoena for their account, and that law enforcement has subpoenaed them," said Representative Chris Latvala (R-Clearwater).

"Evidence could be destroyed," said agent Michael Spadafora of the Brevard County Sheriff's Office. "We did one case where we had to force entry into a house, and the individual is running CD's through a shredder."

Legislation moving at the state capitol would require providers to deny telling suspects about the subpoena for at least six months.

None of the most familiar internet sites have publicly opposed the legislation. But, we're told, they are working behind the scenes to make changes.

Through three committee hearings, only one independent data firm has suggested the bill goes too far.

"A doctor, a lawyer, a family's accountant could have their emails seized," said John Sawicki of the Forensic Data Corp.

Rep. Latvala, who sponsors the bill, says the loophole exists for just one reason.

"These companies are more concerned with their trade secrets or their products than doing the right thing," he said.

Police say they need at least six months before suspects are told about the investigation, because these cases often involve a dozen or more young victims.

Current law already allows for the collection of stored material for web services without a warrant as long as it's 180 days old. The current legislation only changes the time the companies must wait before telling subscribers law enforcement is looking at their account.

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