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Tuesday, June 11, 2024 | Back issues
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Sex Offenders Can Keep Screen Names Secret

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - California's human-trafficking law imposes unconstitutional penalties on convicted sex offenders, a federal judge ruled, entering a preliminary injunction.

"Plaintiffs enjoy no lesser right to anonymous speech simply because they are unpopular, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson wrote.

Voter-approved Proposition 35 requires that registered sex offenders 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.

Shortly after its passage in November, two sex offenders sued to block enforcement of this provision, claiming the requirements are overly broad and impede their right to engage in anonymous, online free speech.

Henderson found Friday that "plaintiffs are likely to establish 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."

The Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act did not show that an interest in fighting sex offenses and human trafficking outweighs privacy interests.

"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," he 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% of arrests for sex crimes against children are for crimes facilitated by technology, and that registered sex offenders are involved in only 4% 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."

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