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Track Sex Offenders with your iPhone

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Does this new technology create more harm than good?

iphone app to track sex offenders

Ronda Kaysen: Parents worried about sex offenders in their neighborhood can now download an application on their iPhone that tells them if any sex offenders are in a 10-mile radius. Nervous moms use the application to track sex offenders who encroach upon their every move, whether it's soccer practice or the grocery store or the gym.

"I am constantly worrying about the well-being of my family," Tracy Rodriguez, a Houston-based mom who uses the app several times daily, told CNN. "You can't be too careful."

The Offender Locator app is one of the 10 most popular iPhone apps, and it's been downloaded more than 1 million times.

Let's stop and think about that for a minute: More than 1 million people out there spend their time figuring out where sexual predators may lurk at any given minute. Is it me, or is this totally nuts?

I'd like to put stranger kidnapping in a bit of perspective, especially given all the recent hype about it. Kidnappings make up less than two percent of all violent crimes committed against children, according to the KlaasKids Foundation. Of the children who are snatched, 76 percent are taken by a parent or acquaintance, not by bogeymen like Phillip Garrido. This means of the few parents who endure the nightmare of a missing child, more than three quarters of them would not benefit at all from the Offender Locator.

So why are parents obsessively checking where every sex offender lives? Many of these people pose zero threat to our kids, since registries cast a wide net when registering offenders. People can end up on these registries for sexting, or having underage sex with a girlfriend, or urinating in public, or having sex in public -- things we don't necessarily condone, but also don't pose a threat to the safety and well-being of our kids.

It's not even clear how effective apps like this actually are. Public records can have errors, information can be outdated, court records can be expunged, addresses can change, and the threat of an offender can be unclear. "It's turning everyone into a police officer," Lillie Coney, associate director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told CNN. "Is that the way society's resources should be used?"

What is clear is that these apps make people prisoners to their own fear. Rodriguez of Houston checks the app repeatedly throughout the day and alters her family's plans to steer clear of perceived threats from strangers. What message are we sending our children by doing this?

It seems to me that we're telling our kids that the world is not safe -- not school, not the soccer field, and not the front yard. I could see how that could make a child terribly anxious. I'm not sure how it would help him learn to make intelligent choices about his personal safety. Yes, we need to be vigilant with our kids and protect them from harm. But this seems to be veering into the terrain of paranoia.

next: Social Networking for Tweens
5 comments so far | Post a comment now
.:robyn:. October 6, 2009, 12:10 PM

At first glance of the title I thought, why don’t I have that app? Then as I loaded the page I thought do I really want an app that does this? Will I use it? Is this just inviting trouble via the law of attraction? Or am I not paranoid enough, as a friend once accused? Well having read the article I feel reassured that I have about the right amount of paranoia nd don’t need this or any app to help increase my fears. Thanks for the perspective.

wendy October 29, 2009, 1:20 PM

Sex offenders have certain guidlines they have to follow such as how far they can live from schools and playgrounds. Would i like to know if the guy next door was let out for rape u bet! but i would also like to know why we dont have a system for violent offenders, such as the ones who have been in trouble for domestic abuse, or if my neighbor has ever been in trouble for pullig a gun on someone! Not that I would track their every move but what makes them any safer?

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