Sex offender alert!

Offendar, a tiny radar device, warns parents when a sex offender nears.

By Carol Lloyd

Published December 7, 2007 6:05PM (EST)

Welcome to the Brave New World. Or maybe we should call it the Scared Shitless New World.

There's a new electronic device out there that can protect your children from perverts! Or so the manufacturers would like us to think. Offendar, a tiny radar device the size of an electronic car key, alerts people that a sex offender is approaching. And at the behest of Republican Ohio state Sen. Tim Grendell, manufacturers of the device offered lawmakers a 90-minute demonstration at the Statehouse in Columbus Wednesday.

Does this seem too intrusive to be true? Actually, according to news reports, it's being touted as a more humane alternative to the legislation that would force former sex offenders to drive cars with bright green license plates. Manufacturers contend that their patent-pending technology is a compromise between those who want to know when a sex offender is around the corner and those who are concerned about privacy issues.

From a range of about 50 yards, the tiny device could also alert the parolee to stay out of range of a school (which state law prohibits them from approaching) to avoid tripping the alarm. But this device isn't being marketed to institutions like schools or day-care centers but to the public at large. Talk about a slippery slope toward letting Big Brother take over our public spaces. What scares me the most about the device is that I can imagine it becoming such a norm that I would buy one.

Of course, for someone who has served his or her time and is trying to get on with life, it doesn't seem fair. But the question I have is what such devices would do to the notion of public space. When devices begin vibrating in a crowded park, what's to keep people from imagining the worst of their neighbors? What's to prevent everyone from packing up their children and hiding away in their homes?

The device could be misused in so many ways. A shopping center wants to close down its competitor? Hire some sex offenders and send them for a stroll through their halls. But even the proper use of such a device gives me the creeps. As Offendar's representative, Jerry Pignolet, explained it to the Associated Press, the device doesn't deter crime, "but it gives you an opportunity to gather your family, get in the car and lock the doors."

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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