Attorney General Bill McCollum came to Lee County on Monday to stress his top priority: the online safety of Florida’s children.
During a cyber safety workshop at Caloosa Elementary School in Cape Coral, McCollum requested a show of hands from the adults in the audience.
How many know what “A/S/L” means? Only two raised their hands. After turning the question to children and teens, every hand was up. The common online slang phrase queries age, sex, and location.
Now armed with an example, McCollum stressed that before enforcement comes education.
The audience was split into three groups — children, teens, and adults.
About 40 teenagers were warned by cyber crimes unit agent Wil Hernandez to not fill out all the information on Internet profile Web sites, including the wildly popular MySpace.com and Facebook.com.
He also cautioned the middle and high school students against posting suggestive pictures on the Internet.
“Is there a ‘take back’ button on the Internet?” he asked. “Once you send something out there, there is no getting it back.”
In a nearby room, four children watched an interactive movie about the basics of Internet safety. The main idea was to tell a trusted adult if feeling uncomfortable, scared, or confused by someone or something on the Web.
Monday’s talk was one of the first of many to come, McCollum said after the workshop. His office is scheduling educational sessions at every middle and high school in Florida during the upcoming school year.
It’s a lot of ground to cover, but McCollum said he’s confident in his office and the cyber crimes unit.
McCollum, a former congressman himself, praised state Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, for his support of the Legislature criminalizing certain acts by sexual predators who scour the Internet for young victims.
“Grooming” — gaining the confidence of a child by lying about age or other characteristics — is now a crime on its own. Traveling to meet a child for sexual acts is also a new offense carrying a maximum penalty of 30 years.
But local law enforcement agencies don’t always have the time, resources, or funding to target such offenders, and that’s where a cyber crime unit comes in.
Thanks to Aubuchon and others, said McCollum, legislators also granted the budget request for $3.8 million to turn Florida’s current six-employee cyber crime unit into an 56-employee agency with locations in cities across the state, including Fort Myers.
The expansion puts Florida second in the nation — behind New York — in the size of its cyber crime unit.
To learn more about cyber safety, visit www.SafeFlorida.net.