Court Blocks Controversial California Bill That Takes Away All Anonymity For Any Sex Offenders
from the getting-beyond-the-moral-panic dept
Back in the fall, we worried about proposed legislation in California designed to deal with “sex offenders” online. As we noted, the bill would almost inevitably pass — as it did — because most people think that increased punishment for sex offenders makes sense. But there are serious issues with the bill if you don’t know the details. First, many “sex offenders” aren’t what you might think of as “sex offenders” — people who are arrested for things like urinating in public, or for consensual sex between minors. Beyond that, this particular bill went really, really far, requiring all such “offenders” to hand over all details of every online service they used — no matter what the purpose. As the EFF noted at the time, this could have tremendous chilling effects on speech:
Proposition 35 would force individuals to provide law enforcement with information about online accounts that are wholly unrelated to criminal activity – such as political discussion groups, book review sites, or blogs. In today’s online world, users may set up accounts on websites to communicate with family members, discuss medical conditions, participate in political advocacy, or even listen to Internet radio. An individual on the registered sex offender list would be forced to report each of these accounts to law enforcement within 24 hours of setting it up – or find themselves in jail. This will have a powerful chilling effect on free speech rights of tens of thousands of Californians.
Basically, no more anonymity, if you happen to be on the list.
This seemed way over-broad, but it still passed with 81% of the public vote. The EFF and the ACLU quickly got a temporary injunction. Thankfully, now, the judge has gone slightly further with a preliminary injunction, noting that it clearly goes way too far, and suggesting that the bill is unlikely to be found Constitutional:
The challenged provisions have some nexus with the government’s legitimate purpose of combating online sex offenses and human trafficking, but the government may not regulate expression in such a manner that a substantial portion of the burden on speech does not serve to advance its goals.
Stopping sex offenders is a noble and worthy goal. But willy nilly removal of anonymity across the board, with no exploration into the reasonableness of the situation, or the actual offense, goes way too far in taking away someone’s rights, while doing little to nothing to actually keep anyone protected.