Computer Program Helps Keep Tabs on Sex Offenders; the State Renews Its Contract with RemoteCOM to Monitor Ex-Convicts' Online Activity

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - Keeping convicted sex offenders from getting into trouble over the Internet once they're released can be a difficult task, but Georgia's Department of Corrections is using technology to help.

Probation officers, each with 50 or so felons to supervise, would have a chore to manually screen all the online activity during their monthly surprise inspections of the ex-convict's homes. The special conditions sex offenders agree to when they are granted probation permits the inspections, and a new state law requires the offenders to turn over their user names and passwords, but enforcing the conditions can be tricky.

So, the Corrections Department just renewed its contract with a Texas company, RemoteCOM, that monitors the online activity electronically at no cost to taxpayers. The offenders who get permission to use the Internet agree to pay RemoteCOM $35 per month and to put a company software program on their home computer.

The software blocks access to prohibited pornographic Web sites and chat rooms. It also scans permitted applications, such as e-mail, for key words that could suggest a violation.

RemoteCOM hires off-duty police officers to manually inspect the activity their software alerts them to. For example, a reply to an e-mail that wasn't originally sent from the monitored computer would be a clue that the offender had used another computer in violation of the rules.

RemoteCOM estimates 10 percent of convicted sex offenders get sent back to prison for violating their online rules.

The Corrections Department oversees 6,200 sex offenders on probation, but only about 20 are monitored, according to department spokeswoman Sharmelle Brooks. …