California Sex Offenders Will Not Have to Reveal Private Internet Information for Now

Wednesday, January 16, 2013, by Amanda Jones

In November the voters in California voted in favor of a proposition which would require registered sex offenders to disclose information concerning their internet usage.  The proposition, termed the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (“CASE Act”) applies to all those currently on the sex offender registry along with all those who must register in the future.  The CASE Act requires these offenders to provide, “A list of any and all Internet identifiers established or used by the person.  A list of any and all Internet service providers used by the person.  A statement in writing, signed by the person, acknowledging that the person is required to register and update the information in [the above two requirements].”  The Act also requires that sex offenders notify law enforcement of any new accounts or changes to current accounts within 24 hours.

It is recognized that the purpose behind the law, “to allow law enforcement to track and prevent online sex offenses and human trafficking,” is admirable, the law must be narrowly tailored to meet those purposes.

November 7, 2012, the day following the voter’s passage of the Act with 81% of the vote, two registered sex offenders and California Reform Sex Offender Laws, a non-profit organization, filed suit claiming the CASE Act violates the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment.   A temporary restraining order was put into place on the day the suit was filed and on January 11, 2013, a judge granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs argue that the CASE Act is a violation of their freedom of speech as well as their freedom of association.  They also add that the Act should be void for vagueness under the Fourteenth Amendment.  The Act would require sex offenders whose offenses have no relation to the internet (i.e. indecent exposure) and offenders who are on the registry for offenses dating back many years (one of the plaintiff’s offended in 1986) to “disclose all of their online ‘identifiers,’ including e-mail addresses, usernames for any online services and social media monikers.”  It is argued that this law, if put into place, would essentially eliminate any chance of anonymous online speech for sex offenders.

While it is recognized that the purpose behind the law, “to allow law enforcement to track and prevent online sex offenses and human trafficking,” is admirable, the law must be narrowly tailored to meet those purposes.

The preliminary injunction gives insight that the judge presiding over the case does not believe the law is narrowly tailored.  In order for the judge to grant the preliminary injunction he had to find that the plaintiffs are “likely to succeed on the merits, that [they are] likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in [their] favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.”

So what do you think?  Do you think that the CASE Act goes too far in requiring all sex offenders on the sex offender registry to disclose such detailed information about their internet usage? Would a better solution be to require only those offenders whose crime(s) make them high risk for committing internet sex crimes to register the required information?