Social Media Ban for Sex Offenders Questioned at US Supreme Court

by Abel Hampton February 28, 2017, 0:27

President Trump's use of Twitter to make news was but one of many examples cited by the Supreme Court on Monday for reasoning that even sex offenders should not be barred from social networking websites.

Throughout the arguments, multiple justices noted the amicus curiae - or, friend of the court - brief filed in the case by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which argued that the state's ban could be applied to "any commercial website that allows access to minors and permits users to post comments under their own name or nickname that other users may see and respond to in order to exchange information about an article, product, or service".

Packingham was off probation, but still on the sex offender registry, when he took to Facebook in April 2010 to celebrate the dismissal of a traffic ticket.

"In 2008, North Carolina made a decision to prohibit sex offenders from being at virtual places where children congregate online - specifically, commercial social networking websites", Montgomery said.

He got a suspended sentence of 10-12 months and his name was placed on a registry of sex offenders.

Packingham was originally convicted of indecent liberties with a minor in 2002 when he was 21.

Packingham sought to have the charges dismissed, arguing that the 2008 law infringes on the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. A North Carolina appeals court reversed his subsequent conviction, but the North Carolina Supreme Court restored the conviction and upheld the state law.

Justices expressed concern with the state's law as limiting people's access to what have become "crucially important" places for political communication - with Justice Elena Kagan noting, "The president now uses Twitter". "Thanks, Jesus", Packingham wrote in the post that led to his conviction and suspended prison sentence.

The state's lawyer said the law deals with the virtual world in the same way that states keep sex offenders out of playgrounds and other places children visit. Other states restrict Internet use as a condition of parole, or ban from social networking sites only those who commit certain crimes.

North Carolina's attorneys argue the ban does not burden speech any more than necessary to achieve its objective. "In 2008, North Carolina chose to prohibit sex offenders from being at virtual places where children congregate online-specifically, commercial social networking websites".

Hearing arguments in Washington, a majority of the justices indicated they read the law as going too far in restricting First Amendment rights and cutting off services that have become nearly indispensable to millions of Americans.

"That goes way, way too far", Goldberg said. He claimed he didn't know her age. It has been used to convict more than 1,000 people. Attorneys general from 13 other states, including SC, filed a brief in support of the law. The officer found six other registered sex offenders in the same session, Montgomery said.

"They can go on the school website", Montgomery said.

While this may sound like a good idea to some, the rule is now being challenged at the Supreme Court level under the argument that social media use falls under freedom of speech.

The state contends its social media ban was adopted to stop sexual predators from "taking what is often the critical first step in the sexual assault of a child", meaning gathering information about potential young targets.

States are trying "to come up with a practical solution to the practical problem of sex offenders being on social media and harvesting information about our children and then soliciting them online", he said.


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