Both chambers of Congress have passed a bill to allow federal government to monitor the international movements of registered sex offenders. The bill, titled “International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders,” H.R. 515, would require a unique passport identifier for all registered sex offenders.
The passport identifier would be one of several actions to track sex offenders. The bill would also establish the “Angel Watch Center” to monitor sex offenders attempting to enter or exit the United States. The Angel Watch Center would be responsible for determining if travelers are registered as sex offenders at least 48 hours before their departure, and reporting relevant information to the Department of Justice and other appropriate agencies. It would provide advanced notice to the destination countries of outgoing sex offenders, and receive notifications from other countries.
Lastly, the bill would require sex offenders to report all international travel information to sex offender registries. Failure to do so would be punishable by a fine, up to ten years of imprisonment, or both.
“Megan’s Law” is a 1996 law to encourage states to monitor the activities of sex offenders. It was passed as a response to the 1994 murder of Megan Kanka, in which the victim and her family were unaware of their neighbor’s record of sexual assault. According to H.R. 515 “the International Labour Organization has estimated that 1,800,000 children worldwide are victims of child sex trafficking and pornography each year.” The intention of “International Megan’s Law” is to create global protections from child exploitation.
According to the House Republicans’ bill page, the computer system “Operation Angel Watch” is already being used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to prevent child predators from traveling to countries known for child sex tourism. “In fiscal year 2014, ICE provided notice of travel from the U.S. of approximately 2,300 convicted child sex offenders to over 120 countries.”
There is still some controversy over the bill. An opinion piece in the Washington Post titled “The yellow star, the scarlet letter, and ‘International Megan’s Law” argues against the proposed passport identification. “It is, as far as I can determine, the first time in U.S. history that any such special designation will appear on the passports of any U.S. citizens, and I think it should send at least a small chill down all of our spines,” the article says.
The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 9, 2016.
(This measure has not been amended since it was passed by the Senate on December 17, 2015. The summary of that version is repeated here.)
International Megan's Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders
(Sec. 4) This bill directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish the Angel Watch Center within the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The center must identify outbound sex offender travelers who failed to provide advanced notice of international travel and provide a list of such individuals to the Marshals Service (USMS) to investigate.
The center may receive notifications of inbound sex offender travel. It must share information with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other government agencies.
The center may also transmit advance notice of sex offender travel to a destination country. It must comply with certain procedures, collect specified data, and establish a process to receive, review, and respond to individual complaints of erroneous notifications.
(Sec. 5) The USMS may receive and transmit notification of international travel by sex offenders. It may also share information about sex offender travel with other government agencies.
This bill requires the USMS to ensure consistent advance notification to destination countries of international travel by registered sex offenders.
The USMS must share certain information with the center, including a list of individuals who provided advanced notice of international travel, a determination of compliance with sex offender registration requirements, and sex offender travel information. It must also establish a process to receive, review, and respond to individual complaints of erroneous notifications.
DOJ must collect specified data related to transmitted notifications.
(Sec. 6) The bill amends the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) to require a registered sex offender to also report information on intended international travel for inclusion in the sex offender registry.
It amends the federal criminal code to make it a crime for a sex offender to knowingly fail to provide such information. A violation is subject to a fine, up to 10 years in prison, or both.
(Sec. 7) It expresses the sense of Congress that the Department of State should negotiate reciprocal international agreements to further the purposes of this Act and SORNA.
(Sec. 8) This bill amends the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 to prohibit the State Department from issuing a passport to a sex offender, unless the passport contains a unique identifier. A "unique identifier" is any visual sex offender designation that is conspicuously affixed to a passport.
(Sec. 9) DHS, DOJ, and the State Department must develop and report jointly to Congress on a process to implement the unique identifier requirement on sex offender passports.
(Sec. 10) The State Department may provide technical assistance to foreign authorities to facilitate effective participation in the notification program established by this Act.
(Sec. 11) The bill authorizes appropriations for FY2017-FY2018.
(Sec. 12) It prohibits construing this Act to limit international information sharing or law enforcement cooperation pursuant to any authority of DOJ, DHS, or any other department or agency.