Cuomo Bans Sex Offenders From Pokémon Go, Leaves Meaningful Action for Another Day

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Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Governor Anthony Cuomo, never afraid to take quick and decisive action on the issues facing New York, announced today that all 3,000 of New York’s sex offenders will be prohibited from “downloading, accessing, or otherwise engaging in any internet-enabled gaming activities, including Pokémon Go.”

“Protecting New York’s children is priority number one and, as technology evolves, we must ensure these advances don’t become new avenues for dangerous predators to prey on new victims,” said Cuomo in a statement. “These actions will provide safeguards for the players of these augmented reality games and help take one more tool away from those seeking to do harm to our children.”

To that end, Cuomo will have the Division of Criminal Justice Services provide a current list of sexual offenders to Niantic Inc., the creator of Pokémon Go, as well providing the same list to Apple and Google. Parole officers will also be trained in how to check and see whether their parolees have been playing any internet-enabled games.

Two New York state senators, Jeffrey Klein and Diane Savino, had staff members travel to 100 registered sex offenders’ addresses in NYC to see if any Pokémon, Pokéstops, or gyms turned up. Sure enough, 73 percent of the time, the area was positive for some sort of Pokémon Go activity. (The fact that nearly anywhere in NYC is gonna have some Pokémon Go–related stuff nearby was not mentioned.) The story was quickly picked up by the New York Daily News, the New York Post, and the New York Times. And so, three days later, Governor Cuomo issues his directive.

There’s a cottage industry in scare stories about Pokémon Go at this point, from robberies at gunpoint to players falling off a cliff to teens discovering a dead body while playing. And it’s true that the game does offer a way to entice players to go to certain locations by setting “lures,” and the thought that a sexual predator could use Pokémon Go to lure children is awful. But there have been no actual reports of this happening. And, at least from the vague language used in Cuomo’s post, not only would sex offenders be banned from playing Pokémon Go, but they would be banned from playing everything from Clash of Clans to Hearthstone to Minecraft.

More to the point, the tragic fact is that the majority of child sexual abuse is committed by adult friends, relatives, or authority figures — it’s estimated that anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of victims know their abuser. The idea of a stranger using an insanely popular app to carry out a heinous act gets headlines, but preventing 3,000 people from downloading Pokémon Go will be difficult to enforce and offers very little protection to children actually in danger.

Meanwhile, left sitting on Cuomo’s desk at the end of this year’s legislative session was a bill that would have lengthened the statute of limitations on sexual-abuse cases by five years; given officials a six-month window to revisit old cases; and eliminated the difference in how public and private organizations (i.e., the Catholic Church) would be treated when it comes to child-sexual-abuse cases.