SPRINGFIELD — A Southern Illinois Democrat is considering legislation requiring online dating services to perform criminal background checks to weed out predators that might be lurking on the Internet.
State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, said he was surprised to learn that these services were not required to perform background checks on members.
"One thing I was trying to come up with is a way to make sure you have a simple background check on somebody before you allow them to advertise," he said. "It seems to me that there should at least be a non-sex-offender requirement."
Bradley said he is considering creating legislation to address this potential problem, but a trade group representing the industry argues the regulation is unnecessary could be expensive and ineffective.
Rich Gosse, founder of the International Association of Dating Web sites, a trade group with over 100 members, said lawmakers mistakenly view online dating as more dangerous than other forms of meeting people.
"We recommend to people that they use common sense when dating on the Internet. Internet dating is not anymore safe or anymore dangerous than any other method of meeting people," he said. "I tell people that you can meet people in church and they could be a hatchet murderer."
Nationally, the Web site True.com has pushed for states to require online dating background checks, a practice that the Texas-based company does itself in least 44 states and Washington, D.C. However, these checks are not always statewide in scope.
In November, True.com filed a lawsuit against a California man who was convicted in 2001 of attempted lewd and lascivious acts with a child under age 14. The man had filled out a questionnaire on the Web site stating he was not a felon.
"I challenge the rest of the online and relationship and dating industry to follow our lead and show similar concern for their members' safety," said Herb Vest, the company's founder and CEO, in a related press release.
However, other dating services view the company's proposal as a ploy to push its competitors out of business.
"They are trying to get government to create a monopoly," Gosse said.
Gosse also suggests that in-depth criminal background checks can be expensive and still not uncover a felon's record.
"They still won't be 100 percent safe," he said. "There is no way of doing a criminal background check on somebody all over the country that will go through every courthouse in the United States."
Requiring more background investigations have become a popular for lawmakers.
During the recent veto session, the Illinois General Assembly approved legislation requiring medical schools to perform checks on potential students.
The soonest lawmakers could debate such a proposal would be in January.