New Massachusetts bill would ban sex offenders from playing Pokemon Go
BOSTON >> A lawmaker from Gardner wants to keep sex offenders from playing Pokemon Go, the cell-phone based game that created a craze last month.
Using location software, the game allows players to wander around in the real world to capture creatures known as Pokemon in the app-based game, while also visiting Pokestops and gyms — both in-game creations tied to real-world places.
The Boston Common and other areas have been swarmed with people playing the game on their phones in recent weeks, and the game was referenced in a Senate debate about whether to allow the State Lottery to offer online games.
Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik, a Gardner Democrat, filed a bill Monday that would bar sex offenders from playing "augmented reality" games, including Pokemon Go.
"The unique game and its playing features present the possibility that potential sex offenders could use the features of the game to commit crimes against children," Zlotnik said in a press release. "Anytime a new technology comes along we have to make sure that the law keeps up so that criminals can't take advantage of any created gaps."
Unlike other online activities — such as Second Life and World of Warcraft — the game developed by California-based Niantic does not include communication between players online. Players wander around the real world, often congregating in popular locations, in their pursuit of Pokemon within their phones.
Niantic declined to provide data on usage of its app.
"One of our core missions at Niantic is to encourage safe outdoor play and exercise. We are always listening to our community and we have heard the concerns raised in recent days about Pokemon GO. We will always ensure our products comply with applicable laws," the company said in a statement. "We also believe that parents know their children and neighborhoods best, and we encourage them to supervise their kids to enjoy Pokemon GO safely, as they would with any outdoor activity or phone app."
Zlotnik's bill would require the Sex Offender Registry Board to prohibit "the use of location based augmented reality multiplayer games by sex offenders."
Asked if he had played, the lawmaker told the News Service he had "tried it out."
Massachusetts lacks the restrictions some other states place on convicted sex offenders' residences, and the Supreme Judicial Court last year struck down a local ordinance in Lynn seeking to bar sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school or park.
Paul Shannon, a Somerville resident and founder of the group Reform Sex Offender Laws, said restrictions on where sex offenders can live do not help keep people safe, and the most effective approach is to "reintegrate them into society."
"This is just one more example of creating a sense of fear and hysteria," Shannon told the News Service about Zlotnik's bill, saying the severity of offenders' sex crimes varies and as a class they are treated as "demons who have to be restricted from participation in life."