Thursday, October 6, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Online Limits for CA Sex Offenders Kept in Knots

(CN) - The 9th Circuit on Tuesday refused to disturb a preliminary injunction against the voter-approved law that calls for registered sex offenders to report their Internet pseudonyms and service providers.

Passed in 2012, the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (CASE) requires registered sex offenders to hand over a list of their "Internet identifiers" and service providers to law enforcement. They also must send written notice within 24 hours of changing or creating new identifiers and service providers.

Two anonymous sex offenders and the nonprofit California Reform Sex Offender Laws challenged the law on First Amendment grounds, and U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson in San Francisco preliminarily enjoined it last year.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris intervened in the case and took the issue to the 9th Circuit.

A three-judge panel unanimously affirmed the injunction on Tuesday, finding the law unclear and too broad.

"Because the CASE Act's requirements are not clear, the information may be too freely shared with the public, and the 24-hour reporting requirement is onerous and overbroad, we conclude that appellees are likely to prevail on their claim that the CASE Act unnecessarily deters registered sex offenders from engaging in legitimate expressive activity," Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the panel.

Bybee added that the law's "ambiguities as to what registrants are required to report, combined with the criminal sanctions for failure to report, unnecessarily chill protected speech."

The California Attorney General's office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Chris Kelly, a former Facebook executive who intervened in the case as one of the primary advocates of the law, said the case is not over.

"We're obviously disappointed that the court preferred convicted sex offenders' rightfully limited interests in anonymity over the safety of California's children," Kelly said in an email Tuesday through his attorney. "This ruling creates a conflict with the 10th Circuit, as well as with existing Supreme Court precedent, and we plan to seek further review."

Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation said the law unfairly punished even the lowest-level offenders, with decades-old offenses.

"We're pleased the court recognized important First Amendment principles of free and anonymous speech apply to everyone, regardless of what crimes they may have committed in the past," Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Hanni Fakhoury said in a statement. "While the law may be well-intentioned, its broad language opened the door for the government to chill free speech."

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.