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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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9th Circuit Asked to Revive Trafficking Law

(CN) - California wants to revive a human-trafficking law that a federal judge enjoined for imposing unconstitutional penalties on convicted sex offenders.

Attorney General Kamala Harris said the appeal represents her pledge to combat human trafficking in a state that boasts the world's ninth largest economy.

Among the provisions of Proposition 35 that took aim at human traffickers, the voter-approved law increased prison terms for such offenders and required convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders.

The Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, or CASE Act, also mandated law-enforcement training on human trafficking and required convicted human traffickers to pay criminal fines that would fund victim services.

Civil liberty advocates balked, however, at a provision that requires all registered sex offenders to give police a complete list of their user names, screen names, email addresses and Internet service providers within 24 hours of setting up a new account or screen name.

Violations are punishable by up to three years in prison.

The day after the passage of the initiative, two anonymous sex offenders joined a group called California Reform Sex Offender Laws in a class action to block its enforcement. They claimed that the requirements were overly broad and impeded their right to engage in anonymous, online free speech.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson awarded them an injunction last month, finding it likely the class would show "that the challenged provisions, when combined with the lack of protections on the information's disclosure and the serious penalty registrants face if they fail to comply with the reporting requirements, create too great a chilling effect to pass constitutional muster."

California also failed to show that its interest in fighting sex offenses and human trafficking outweighed privacy interests, according too the ruling.

"The government has not demonstrated that the CASE Act's impact on public safety is sufficient to overcome the interest - both to plaintiffs and to the public - in avoiding infringement of plaintiffs' First Amendment rights," Henderson wrote. "In this case, the government has not provided any evidence regarding the extent to which the public safety might be enhanced if the additional registration requirements went into effect. plaintiffs' evidence - as yet undisputed - indicates that only 1 percent of arrests for sex crimes against children are for crimes facilitated by technology, and that registered sex offenders are involved in only 4 percent of these arrests. While the court does not minimize the significance of any single crime, the record at this stage of the proceedings suggests that the potential usefulness of the Internet registration information is limited to a very small portion of the universe of sex offenses and online sex offenses."

Harris, who has vowed to crack down on human trafficking, says the Internet and new technologies have "transformed the landscape of human trafficking."

"Traffickers use social media and other online tools to recruit victims and, in the case of sex trafficking, find and communicate with customers," she said in an official statement. "While technology is being used to perpetrate human trafficking, that same technology can provide a digital trail - a valuable investigative tool for law enforcement to monitor, collect, and analyze online data and activities."

Chris Kelly, the former chief of privacy at Facebook, helped draft Proposition 35. Nearly 81 percent of voters approved the measure.

Opponents of the initiative say it would have a negative effect on state budget and could force those engaged in consensual prostitution to register as sex offenders.

Harris launched a work group to examine human trafficking in California, and released a report on the matter in 2012.

Human trafficking "the world's fastest growing criminal enterprise," Harris said, citing estimates that predict it will be a $32 billion-a-year global industry.

Harris appealed the injunction to the 9th Circuit on Feb. 11.

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