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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
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Divulge Online IDs, Court|Tells Utah Sex Offenders

(CN) - The 10th Circuit upheld a Utah law that forces sex offenders to hand over names they use to send e-mails and instant messages.

A Utah resident, convicted by the military for sex crimes against a minor, filed suit anonymously to contest the law, which requires sex offenders to identify all "Internet identifiers," defined as "any electronic mail, chat, instant messenger, social networking or similar name used for Internet communication."

Utah amended the law, which originally required sex offenders to disclose their passwords, after a federal judge ruled that provision infringed on Doe's First Amendment rights.

The 10th Circuit in Denver, which issued its opinion in October but recently corrected the filing, ruled that law enforcement investigations into sex-related crimes trumped the plaintiff's claims under the First Amendment because of a "compelling interest."

Judge Monroe McKay, writing for the three-judge panel, noted that sex offenders were still allowed a degree of online anonymity since law enforcement limits its use of the information to criminal investigations.

"Although there is a possibility that a government agent would have access to Mr. Doe's identity at the time he was speaking - as, for example, if an undercover sought him out in a chat room in the course of investigating a sex crime - we are not persuaded that this possibility imposes a constitutionally improper burden on speech," McKay said.

The judge also rejected claims that the law constitutes an illegal search and seizure barred by the Fourth Amendment or the ex post facto clause of the Constitution.

"Looking closely at Mr. Doe's argument on this issue, it seems clear that his contentions depend entirely upon his argument that the Utah statute would allow impermissible public disclosure of his internet identifiers, thereby destroying his right to anonymous speech," McKay wrote. "However, because we conclude that Utah's registration statute does not violate the First Amendment, we hold that the effect of the new disclosure requirements is not substantial enough."

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