Australia’s first publicly accessible child sex offender register went live yesterday, supplying photographs and names of pedophiles, amid concern it will lead to vigilantism and mistaken identity.
The Community Protection Web site, a Western Australia government initiative, provides information on the state’s most dangerous repeat sex offenders.
“This has been a bit of a balancing act between community safety and managing the ability of the police to manage dangerous sex offenders and reportable offenders in the community,” Western Australia Police Minister Liza Harvey said. “It is a tool that we’ve got, I think [it] will be useful for parents to try and help to keep their children safe.”
Detective Senior Sergeant Darryl Noye, from the state’s Child Sex Crimes Squad, said there were 120 people eligible to be published on the Web site, which crashed soon after going live yesterday. Police said there was a server problem.
Initially it is to identify — by photograph, date of birth, physical description, name and known aliases — nine missing sex offenders who have gone underground and failed to comply with their reporting obligations.
The Web site will also allow parents to enter their address and find out if any convicted pedophiles live nearby. If they do, they can request pictures and other details.
Parents will also be able to inquire whether a specific person who has regular unsupervised contact with their child is a known offender in the state.
However, legal groups have questioned how useful it will be and raised concern about the potential for vigilante attacks.
“Violence, damage to property, slashed tires and broken windows. These things will flow and they will have no practical remedy,” said Jonathan Davies, from the Australian Lawyers Alliance.
The Criminal Lawyers’ Association of Western Australia president Linda Black added that authorities would find it hard to stop the pictures being illegally posted elsewhere on the Internet.
“People’s photos will end up on YouTube and as well as vigilante attacks, there may well be wrong identifications,” she said.
Noye said it was an offense to republish any information from the site on the Internet and warned that vigilantism would never be accepted.