Pennsylvania parole officers use spy ware to track sex offenders online moves

    New computer software allows Pennsylvania parole officers to track the online moves of paroled sex offenders.

    The Pennsylvania board of probation and parole has just started a pilot program testing the spy-ware with 30 offenders.

    The program focuses on offenders in the Pittsburgh area who committed some part of their crime online.

    “The field agent will download the site to their computer, and then every day check on exactly where the offender is searching,” exlained district director Larry Ludwig. “Most of our offenders are given special restrictions not to view pornography, and if that’s what they are doing then we would have to act appropriately.”

    Ludwig says if the program is successful during the 90-day trial period, it will potentially be rolled out state-wide.

    Dr. Tom Haworth treats sex offenders at the Joseph J. Peters Institute in Philadelphia. He said since many convicted sex offenders are barred from using computers, this could be a way to keep communities safe while giving offenders access to an important tool.

    “It permits them for the use of technology to perform employment tasks and other things that are important to just functioning in our society today,” Haworth said.

    Haworth added that this tool will only work for specific offenders who get in trouble with online behaviors.

    “Sex offenders are a very diverse group of people. If you know one sex offender, you only know one sex offender,” he said, adding that many different pathways lead to an offense. “Using this as one of many tools to be able to help people in their recovery and keeping people safe is a smart technique,” he said.

    Forensic experts caution that the software doesn’t currently extend to mobile devices, and they say other software could be developed to block the spy program.

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