Authorities powerless to prevent sex offenders from trawling dating apps

Authorities powerless to prevent sex offenders from trawling dating apps

Unmasked: Convicted killer and rapist Ian Horgan was revealed to have been seeking contact with women on Tinder without disclosing his identity. Picture: David Forsythe

There are no laws or restrictions stopping registered sex offenders from trawling dating apps such as Bumble and Tinder, experts have warned.

The gap in digital legislation has been highlighted following the recent case of killer and rapist Ian Horgan, who was using Tinder under a fake name when he was identified by chance by another user, who reported him to gardaí.

It led to Horgan, aged 38, being jailed for 12 months on two charges, including one that he joined the dating app under a false name.

Horgan was previously jailed for the rape and manslaughter of beautician Rachel Kiely in Ballincollig, Cork, in 2000 and has been on the sex offenders register for well over a decade.

His Tinder case is believed to be the first of its kind in Ireland and has prompted calls for a radical update to current legislation.

Further concerns have been raised that legislation before the Dáil — the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2021 — does not actually address gaps that allow sex offenders to join dating apps.

A spokesperson for Tinder confirmed there is no requirement for a sex offender to disclose their criminal record, in private or in public, when accessing the platform, with one of the world’s largest dating platforms adopting the position that it is not the police.

A spokesperson for the platform said: “Anyone that joins Tinder does so by agreeing to our community guidelines. Any breach of these could result in profiles being banned.

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Noeline Blackwell: '[S]ocial media companies, including the dating sites, can set up their own rules and make their own decisions at the moment.' File picture: Sasko Lazarov/Rolling News
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Noeline Blackwell: '[S]ocial media companies, including the dating sites, can set up their own rules and make their own decisions at the moment.' File picture: Sasko Lazarov/Rolling News

“Additionally, we encourage all our members to report anyone that is not adhering to these guidelines so we can investigate further.

“Last year, the reporting tool was updated to make this even easier and can be done from desktop and app. Additionally, you do not need to have a Tinder account to report a profile on Tinder.”

The guidelines include no nudity or sexual content, no harassment, and no hate crime. As for impersonation, it says: “Be yourself! Don’t pretend to be someone else.”

Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, acknowledged there was no order preventing Horgan from using the internet or social media in his own name. She has raised broader concerns.

“If we leave aside the recent breaches [by Horgan], then our legal system says that once a person has served their sentence for a crime, they don’t have to do more,” she said.

“For those on the so-called sex offenders register, they do have to notify potential employers if they are to work with children/vulnerable adults.

But in truth, there could be a lot of sex offenders using Tinder and other social media and they have no obligation to notify a conviction, nor can the social media companies ask. 

Investigators in the Horgan case hit roadblocks during the case, with requests for data having to be sent to Tinder’s US headquarters — a process that took eight months to complete.

“I do know that all the tech companies, including the social media companies, including the dating sites, can set up their own rules and make their own decisions at the moment,” said Ms Blackwell.

“That’s why the online media and broadcasting bill that’s before the Oireachtas right now is so important.

“Its proposal to set up a media commission — including a dedicated safety commissioner — which will then establish codes of conduct and ways of behaviour that the companies operating in Ireland must observe, is an important one.

“Those codes must look to concerns that An Garda Síochána will have about access to material.”

In the wake of the Horgan case, James B Dwyer, an experienced senior counsel who has worked on cases involving sex offenders, said: “I don’t think Tinder are under any statutory obligation to furnish gardaí with the information.

“How would they be able to know he was a sex offender and was using a false name anyway?”

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