Sex offenders won a key legal victory which is a cause for concern amongst some citizens. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court struck down a 9-year-old law in North Carolina which barred sex offenders from using social media.
The law, passed in 2008, made it illegal for registered sex offenders to access social media websites and apps that allow minors – i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
However, on Monday eight Supreme Court justices ruled the law was unconstitutional and that it was a breach of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause.
“While we now may be coming to the realization that the Cyber Age is a revolution of historic proportions, we cannot appreciate yet its full dimensions and vast potential to alter how we think, express ourselves, and define who we want to be,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said.
“The forces and directions of the Internet are so new, so protean, and so far-reaching that courts must be conscious that what they say today might be obsolete tomorrow,” he added.
The case was brought to the Supreme Court by Lester Gerard Packingham. In 2002, when he was 21-years old, Packingham had sex with a 13-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty to his charges and was registered as a sex offender.
Eight years later, Packingham made a celebratory post on Facebook after a traffic ticket he had was dismissed. “No fine, no court costs, nothing spent… Praise be to God” the post read. Police investigated the post and were able to connect Packingham to it and arrested him. He was given a suspended prison sentence.
Now, after the case flip-flopped through North Carolina’s court of appeals, the case made its way to Washington.
“This case is one of the first this Court has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet,” Kennedy said. “As a result, the Court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium.”
North Carolina said the law was passed to “confront the threat sexual predators pose to children.” Which makes total sense, however, the Supreme Court had difficulty with the “broad wording” of the statute – which they said leaves room for interpretation.
The law prohibited sex offenders from using websites “as varied as” Amazon, The Washington Post, and WebMD – which may also be blacklisted.
Even more, Kennedy wrote that by prohibiting sex offenders from having access to social media, the state “with one broad stroke” denies access to primary sources of current events and employment opportunities, and excludes people from “otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge.”
As of July 2013, 10 states (now excluding North Carolina) and the federal government restrict or ban the use of social networks by registered sex offenders. That includes Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, South Carolina, and Texas.
Should the government put internet restrictions on criminals convicted of certain crimes? In my opinion, it seems like it would be too difficult. Plus there are plenty of creepy people on the internet who are not registered sex offenders. But what are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.