On the list of those whom you may feel some measure of sympathy for, convicted sexual offenders rank somewhere between National Socialists and those who key cars. Perhaps lower. And yet, this is precisely why they are often the first against the wall when it comes to needless regulation and harassment. Like the bespectacled little spazz on the playground, sex offenders make for an easy mark.
And so it was that the state of California passed a ballot initiative that requires those already on the sex offender registry in that state to further register all of their internet activities. They must register their e-mail addresses and their impossibly witty usernames and handles. The cloak of anonymity on the internet, vital to its snark, nihilism, and generally poor table manners, has been denied to sexual deviants in California with this new law.
Well, not if the ACLU can help it. Continue reading after the jump, but only if your state allows you to…
The article in the New York Times describing the legal battle over this new law starts like most articles do, simply setting the scene:
California’s sex offender registry, the nation’s oldest and largest, lists more than 74,000 living Californians convicted of sex crimes since 1947. Like sex offenders elsewhere in the nation, they have been increasingly restricted in recent years as communities have barred them from not only schoolyards and playgrounds but also beaches, libraries, harbors and other public places.
Harbors? What the who?
Apparently, when these perverts aren’t humping the water and playing with their dinghies, they’re online. And this is where California’s newly passed ballot initiative seeks to curtail their freedoms. Specifically, their First Amendment ones. The ACLU, your lawyer if everyone hates you, has taken up the cause of these deviants:
The new law immediately brought a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that its requirements violate the First Amendment by infringing on the right to free, anonymous speech on the Internet. A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order blocking the Internet provisions of the law, which also includes increased prison terms for sex trafficking. The judge is expected to consider a request for a preliminary injunction at a hearing on Tuesday.
I get how it curtails anonymous speech, but the modifier “free” confuses me. What is it about absolute anonymous speech that is protected by the First Amendment? You may think a man who goes by Juggalo Law would sympathize with his pseudonymous compadres, but you would be wrong. I’m constitutionally incapable of sympathy.
Chris Kelly, one of the initiative’s original supporters and a man whose previous title was chief privacy officer at Facebook (which is a little like being the chief ethics officer at Enron), replied to the ACLU’s seemingly overwrought concerns by pointing out that this new registry was no different than previous ones. It merely “adds essentially an extra field in the database.”
This seems like a strong argument to me. There is nothing in the law that denies these sex freaks their ability to speak online. In fact, their anonymity is practically retained in whole as the new registry does not have the same public disclosure rules that other sex offender lists have. It does seem like just another notation in an already comprehensive surveillance scheme.
But Michael Risher, an attorney for the ACLU, begs and pleads to differ:
“This is a problem under the First Amendment,” Mr. Risher said. “Americans have a right under the First Amendment to speak anonymously, and this eviscerated that right. People, for example, would have to turn over the screen names they use to comment on the New York Times Web site.”
“That’s not activity that can be used to commit a crime in any way,” he continued. “It is pure speech, often pure speech about important political issues of the day. It’s an area where there is no reason for the government to be requiring people to identify themselves to the police.”
This is Risher just sucking up to the Times reporter. Comments on the Times site are awful and totally unworthy of constitutional protection. Just full of old people trolling the young, complaining about Medicare and talking about their grandchildren.
While the overblown rhetoric offered in the service of anonymous internet rhetoric isn’t convincing, that doesn’t mean that the latest blow to those who reside on the sex offender registry should pass without criticism.
Anytime a politician goes after the perverts, it gives me pause. Put simply, our desire to heap more regulation and scorn on sex offenders does not typically cover any of us in glory. One glance at our evolving notions of sodomy suggests that we are not always the best judges of what is evil in the bedroom. The offender registry has never, with the benefit of hindsight, been the exclusive province of the worst of the worst. The nature of a list like this tends towards a far-too-wide net, ensnaring the few sick souls along with those whose behavior merely makes some squeamish. And the lack of any sort of incentive for politicians to ease the punishment on the sad few makes for a sort of ratcheting effect, where our retributive instincts push us further and further down the sadist’s path.
Or maybe I don’t know anything about anything. Besides, I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what these sexual weirdos want to do at harbors.
In the comments, discuss which possible ATL usernames would belong to sex offenders. I’ll start. FreedFrank.
Suit Contests Limits on Online Activities of Sex Offenders [New York Times]