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Can Internet privacy after sex crimes be limited?

In Pennsylvania as in other states, many people convicted of sex crimes are required to register on the state's sex offender list. Once on the list, people's lives are often restricted in several ways. Common restrictions for those on a sex offender list include banishment from schools, libraries, beaches and other public areas.

Another common sentence in many states is to require people convicted of some sex crimes to have their Internet activity monitored by police. Authorities say that the monitoring is necessary to prevent those convicted of Internet crimes from repeating their behavior.

But a new ballot initiative that California voters recently passed is being criticized as overly broad and a violation of the First Amendment. The initiative would require sex offenders to register all email addresses and screen names they use with authorities so they can look at their online activities.

This includes activity such as commenting on news articles which seems to have little risk of becoming a crime. Also, people who are on the sex offender list for convictions unrelated to the Internet such as sex work still must submit to governmental Internet monitoring.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the initiative. One of the questions likely to be raised in the litigation is whether the law violates the First Amendment's right to free, anonymous speech. As one constitutional law professor said, laws restricting someone's freedom of speech must be closely tailored to prevent the crime it is intended to stop.

Source: The New York Times, "Suit Contest Limits on Online Activities of Sex Offenders," Norimitsu Onishi, Nov. 17, 2012

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