Sex Offenders, Online Identifiers, and the First Amendment

linkedin
Share on Google+
Share on Reddit
Share on Tumblr
Download PDF

A federal judge in Utah recently invalidated the part of Utah’s sex offender registry that requires each registrant to provide his “[i]nternet identifiers and . . . addresses . . . [and] the name . . . of all websites on which the sex offender is registered.” Doe v. Shurtleff, 2008 WL 4427594 (D. Ut. Sept. 15, 2008) (quoting Utah Code Ann. § 77-27-21.5(12)(i) & (j)). This raises some questions about the constitutionality of North Carolina’s new requirement that sex offenders provide “[a]ny online identifier that the person uses or intends to use.” G.S. 14-208.7(b)(7) (eff. May 1, 2009). . .

The Utah judge held that sex offenders retain their First Amendment free speech rights, including their right to engage in anonymous speech. She acknowledged that Utah has a strong interest in preventing sex offenders from using the internet as a way to commit further sex crimes, but ruled that Utah’s registration requirements were not narrowly tailored to that interest. She was particularly concerned that the relevant statutes did not limit the uses to which the state could put the information it collected (for example, to criminal investigations only), and did not require the state to keep the information confidential. As a result, she granted summary judgment to the registrant and enjoined the state from enforcing the portion of the registration laws that requires registrants to provide their internet identifiers, etc.

North Carolina’s new law requires each registrant to provide his “electronic mail address, instant message screen name, user ID, chat or other Internet communication name.” G.S. 14-206.6(1n) (eff. May 1, 2009). Like Utah’s statute, ours doesn’t put any limits on the uses to which the state can put the information it collects, and has few, if any, limits on how the state may disseminate the information. See generally G.S. 14-208.10.

Does this mean that the North Carolina statute is vulnerable to a challenge like the one that succeeded in Doe? Maybe, maybe not. Even if the legal analysis in Doe is correct — and the judge acknowledged that she was in “untested legal waters” — North Carolina’s statute is narrower than Utah’s. A sex offender in Utah who logs into the New York Times website needs to disclose that he visits the site, his username, and his password. A sex offender in North Carolina who does the same thing may need to supply his username (if it is different than his email address and if it is construed to be an “Internet communication name”), but doesn’t need to say that he visits the site, and doesn’t need to give up his password. Whether these are distinctions that make a difference only time, and litigation, will tell.

4 comments on “Sex Offenders, Online Identifiers, and the First Amendment

  1. One of the problems with the NC law is that it says you have to register online identifiers that you “intend to use”. What if I “intend” to use YOUR email address?

    One of the problems with the NC law is that there is no penalty for misuse of the information.

    One of the problems with the NC law is that you might be required by law to divulge your bank account number, if that is your log on ID. That, I believe, in against Federal Law.

    The question is really how does this help? Since the NC legislature keeps passing laws restricting where a person who has committed a sex offense (or certain non-sex offenses) can “be”, there are many times that the family goes out to dinner, or to a movie, or a game, or church, and he or she must remain at home. Isolation is where these people were when their offenses were committed. They weren’t out with family. Now they are being forced to be alone, and one by one their ability to do anything else is being taken away. Soon it will be what books they can read, what movies they can see…

  2. well i have to aggree with CF me my self being a sex offender for over 12 years …. before you all jump on there a sicko in here. hear me out this happen back when i was like 18 so and i am almost 30 now. what i see is they are realy pushing offenders in to a corner where the only thing they can do is stay at home ( witch is a bad place cause with them not getting out and trying to live life they start thinking) and will fall back to the same offense that got them in the trouble. the online idents i can see a point in collecting them but i see holes in the law too. If a offender going to do anything will they use their own online identifiers ( probly not) . with Isolation brings smarter crooks cause all they have to do is educate them self and start becoming smarter crooks ..

    now i do aggree with tracking them for safety or so they know where you are if something happens they can come and ask you questions .

    the website with offenders being public i see a good side to that but i can tell you that a double edge sword cause the offender can now be tormented by people that do not know what happen or anything like that and take it just cause they was labled sex offender then they are sick … some people just made stupid choices like me 12 years and have not got in to any trouble. nothing but a seat belt ticket .

    but as far as these online idents in my eyes will not work for some one that realy has not learn a lesson …. and yes their are a few that have not learn and more still that not been caught ….

    with that i am done

  3. I am a sex offender who was not even guilty of my crime.I was imprisoned without any evidence. Their was no rape kit done to see
    if the young lady was even sexually active.I was locked up in a basemesnt for 8 months pilled up on a floor with a bunch of other inmates. I was exposed to tb and everything. I requested a speedy trial and in stead was presented with a plea and was told by my lawyer that i would not have to register. I took it too get out of that HELL whole. To me a misdemeaner was fine. Though i was pleading my innocence. The judge even asked the DA and my lawyer did i have to register with this charge and they said no and i was released. Later that week i went to see my lawyer about a traffic ticket and thats when he informed me that i had to register and he did not know this until after i was released and said i would be locked up if i did not. I would have never took the plea if i had to register. I know that man is unjust and evil.Sex offenders are dollars signs just like all other criminals if you have money or your someone who works for the judicial system (eg cops who kill innocent people) happened twice in ny.then the system is for you. Is there any way to change some of these sex offender laws.i mean i agree with some of the stuff but alot of them are not human. We go to jail and are imprisoned for a minimum of at least ten years when releasedwhile free. Now thats merciless.

  4. […] to keep sex offenders off social networking sites.  I wrote about North Carolina’s law here, and you can read about some other states’ efforts here.  There are serious First Amendment […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.