Court Rejects Probation Rules On Teen That Ban Him From Using Social Networks Or Instant Messaging Programs
from the free-speech-ftw dept
We’ve written a few times about the ridiculousness of courts trying to ban the internet for certain people convicted of various crimes. However, what about specific bans on just part of the internet. Venkat Balasubramani has a post about a teenager (“J.J.”) who had received a stolen motorcycle. He was given probation with a variety of restrictions on computer usage:
[J.J.] shall not use a computer that contains any encryption, hacking, cracking, scanning, keystroke monitoring, security testing, steganography, Trojan or virus software.
[J.J.] is prohibited from participating in chat rooms, using instant messaging such as ICQ, MySpace, Facebook, or other similar communication programs.
[J.J.] shall not have a MySpace page, a Facebook page, or any other similar page and shall delete any existing page. [J.J.] shall not use MySpace, Facebook, or any similar program.
[J.J.] is not to use a computer for any purpose other than school related assignments. [J.J.] is to be supervised when using a computer in the common area of [his] residence or in a school setting.
Note that he wasn’t accused of any sort of computer crime here. Also, my first reaction that first ban was to wonder what’s wrong with encryption software? And, um, how does he know if he’s got trojans or viruses on his computer? That said, the rest of the bans also seemed extreme and overly broad — which was the point that J.J. made in challenging the conditions. Thankfully, a judge agreed and has dumped those conditions as being unreasonable restrictions on free speech:
Through the use of chat rooms, any person with a phone line can become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox. Through the use of Web pages, mail exploders, and newsgroups, the same individual can become a pamphleteer. . . . Two hundred years after the framers ratified the Constitution, the Net has taught us what the First Amendment means.
As for the oddities in banning him from using computers with viruses, trojans or keystroke monitors, which he could potentially violate without even knowing it, the court changed the terms to say that he can’t knowingly use a computer with any of those things on it. Unfortunately, they still include “encryption” on the list. I find it troubling that the court is okay with demonizing encryption (and, to a lesser extent, “hacking” tools) when there are plenty of legitimate reasons to do so. Does that mean he can’t even encrypt his email?