November 27, 2014

Sex Offenders Have Constitutional Right to Post Online Without Revealing Identity

11-27-2014 California:

A 2012 California voter initiative requiring registered sex offenders to disclose all their e-mail addresses, screen names, social networking user names and other online activities to local law enforcement likely violates the First Amendment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Nov. 18.

“Although this is not what some might call the classic anonymous-speech case, where speakers allege they are required to disclose their identities directly to their audience, we conclude that the Act nevertheless chills anonymous speech because it too freely allows law enforcement to disclose sex offenders’ Internet identifying information to the public,” the court said in an opinion by Judge Jay S. Bybee.

‘Robust Political Debate.'

Lawyers who filed the class action complaint on behalf of the John Doe plaintiffs hailed the decision as a victory for First Amendment rights.

“We're glad the court recognized that everyone, regardless of their criminal history, should have the opportunity to speak freely and anonymously,” Hanni Fakhoury, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, San Francisco, told Bloomberg BNA.

“While the law may be well-intentioned, its broad language opened the door for the government to chill free speech,” Fakhoury said. These types of restrictions often serve as a “stepping stone” to expand law enforcement power against other classes of unpopular people, he said.

Linda Lye, of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, told Bloomberg BNA that the decision “recognizes the importance of anonymity in fostering robust political debate.”

“The portions of Prop 35 that unconstitutionally limit what people say online won't help us end human trafficking,” she said.

Right to Be Anonymous

The Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act included an amendment to Cal. Penal Code § 290.015(a)(4), (5), which now requires all registered sex offenders to surrender a list of their Internet service providers and “any and all Internet identifiers” they use.

The act further states that if a person covered under the reporting provision switches providers or changes any of the monikers he used, he must send written notice of the change within 24 hours “to the law enforcement agency or agencies with which he or she is currently registered.”

The ACLU and the EFF sued to stall the act's implementation, and a federal district judge granted a preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claims that the law infringes protected First Amendment activity. ..Continued.. by Lance Rogers

No comments: