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Illinois Sex Offenders Must Reveal Internet IDs

(CN) — The Illinois Supreme Court reversed an order finding that a state-law requirement that sex offenders disclose their internet identities and websites is overbroad.

Mark Minnis was adjudicated a delinquent minor for committing criminal sexual abuse and sentenced to 12 months' probation by the McLean County, Ill. Circuit Court in late 2010, rendering him a sex offender under state law.

At registration that year, Minnis gave the Normal, Ill. police his two email addresses and his Facebook account, as the state's Sex Offender Registration Act requires offenders to disclose their internet identities and websites, and update them at least once a year.

Though Minnis listed the same information in his 2011 registration form, he omitted his Facebook account from his 2014 form, according to court records.

Normal police arrested Minnis after finding he had changed his publicly accessible cover photo on his Facebook profile only one month earlier. He was then indicted for failing to register as a sex offender pursuant to state law.

But the McLean County court dismissed the indictment before trial in 2015, finding that the Act's internet-disclosure provision was unconstitutionally overbroad, in violation of the First Amendment.

The state appealed, and the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling Thursday.

"We conclude that the internet disclosure provision advances the substantial governmental interest of preventing sex offenses against children and protecting the public from the danger of recidivist sex offenders," Judge Charles Freeman wrote for the seven-judge panel.

The provision "identifies the locations on the internet to which the sex offender has transferred expressive material from his computer or has otherwise engaged in communication," Freeman added. "These disclosures empower the public, if it wishes, to make the informed decision to avoid such interactions."

The 18-page ruling states that "the information required for the public to protect itself is broad because any communication by a sex offender with the public is related to the statutory purpose."

Other courts have found the internet-disclosure provision overbroad, holding that sex offenders typically use private messaging to entice children to have illicit sex, not publicly available websites.

But those courts "failed to recognize the breadth necessary to protect the public," Freeman wrote.

In fact, "despite its plainly legitimate sweep, the internet disclosure provision is

tailored to avoid chilling more speech than necessary, or in other words, to lessen the number of unconstitutional applications," the ruling states.

For instance, the provision does not require disclosure of individuals with whom sex offenders interact, if any, and does not operate as a prior restraint, according to the ruling.

"While this retroactive operation does not remove the provision from First Amendment scrutiny, it certainly constitutes an example of narrow tailoring," Freeman wrote.

The judge later added, "Indeed, any attempt to more narrowly tailor the disclosure provision to exclude 'innocent' subjects, whatever they may be and however chosen, would defeat the purpose of the provision."

The court remanded the case for further proceedings.

Annie Thompson, press secretary for the state attorney general's office, said the state is "pleased that the court upheld this statute as constitutional and found that it advances the goal of preventing sex offenses against children."

But Rebecca Glenberg, senior staff counsel for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the ACLU is "disappointed" by the ruling, claiming it is "out of step with other courts."

"The Illinois law imposes tremendous burdens on the right to free speech on the Internet," Glenberg said. "Registrants must report to police every single website on which they post information — from comments on newspaper articles to prayer requests on religious websites."

Yet "there is no evidence that this onerous requirement contribute to public safety," Glenberg added. "Instead, like many other sex offender registry requirements, it inhibits offenders' ability to rehabilitate and lead a positive, productive life."

McLean County and amicus curiae the Electronic Frontier Foundation did not immediately return requests for comment emailed Monday.

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