Supreme Court to hear challenge to social media ban for sex offenders

Supreme Court to hear challenge to social media ban for sex offenders

USA

Supreme Court justices on Monday cast doubt on a North Carolina law that bans registered sex offenders from using Facebook and other online social media.

David Post, an Internet scholar who authored a friend-of-the-court brief siding with Packingham, notes that the 30-year sex offender registry means that Packingham and other former offenders who are not in prison, not under supervised release, and not repeat offenders, are still subject to limits on their liberties.

36, a registered sex offender who posted on Facebook back in 2010 celebrating his dismissed traffic ticket, according to the SCOTUS blog.

For the new charge, police pointed to a state law that forbids registered sex offenders from going on social media sites that can be accessed by minors.

Packingham was designated a sex offender in 2002 when he pleaded guilty at 21 of having consensual sex with a 13-year-old girl he said he was dating.

"Nearly 7 in 10 American adults regularly use at least one internet social networking service", the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted in a brief, adding that "Facebook alone has more than 1.79 billion monthly active users".

Now, Packingham is asking the Supreme Court to strike down the North Carolina law, saying it violates his First Amendment rights by cutting him off from an important source of news and information.

An intermediate state appellate court overturned his conviction, but the state supreme court reversed that ruling and reinstated his conviction.

Kagan also noted that the law does not prohibit the use of what she perceives as the most unsafe websites, including those that have only chat rooms or photo-sharing.

"Typically, there's not the transparent amount of information or the anonymity that comes with the social networking website in which you can click on a link and go find out information about someone that you don't know", he said.

"I don't know that we ever did have a public square, but assuming we had a public square a hundred years ago, could you say that this person couldn't go into the public square?"

Can states completely bar sex offenders from social media sites like Facebook? "There's never been any suggestion that he was up to anything but exercising his freedom of speech".

North Carolina's social media ban is particularly all-encompassing.

Even though they may have served their time and finished probation, and haven't broken the law again, they remain under restrictions unlike other criminals, because of the particular nature of their crimes and the fear that they will be driven to offend again. "It just keeps them off of certain web sites". "This is a part of the internet, but it's not the entire internet that is being taken away from these offenders", Montgomery said. The officer found six other registered sex offenders in the same session, Montgomery said.

"There's a concern here for the safety of children", Ginsburg acknowledged, as some of her colleagues - notably Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer - searched for a more limited way in which states could protect victims without infringing on basic free speech rights. Louisiana amended its statute to comply with the court decision.

The state contends its social media ban was adopted to stop sexual predators from "taking what is often the critical first step in the sexual assault of a child", meaning gathering information about potential young targets.

The state said it's the virtual equivalent of keeping child predators out of playgrounds, parks and schools.

  • Jack Replman