Sex Offenders Say California Law Infringes Free Speech

California sex offenders shouldn’t have to turn over their Twitter, Facebook or e-mail account information to police because they have a right to anonymous online speech, privacy advocates are set to tell a judge.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyers are seeking to keep a voter-approved law targeting human trafficking and sex exploitation from taking effect while they proceed with a lawsuit aimed at overturning portions of it. California law enforcement officials say tracking Internet communications can prevent offenders from preying on children.

“Possession of this information may provide enough of a head start to save a victim’s life,” California Deputy Attorney General Robert Wilson said in a court filing in federal court in San Francisco. “Having Internet identifying information, however, does not permit access to, or monitoring of, private communications.”

Proposition 35, approved by more than 80 percent of California voters last month and backed by former Facebook Inc. (FB) executive Chris Kelly, was set to take effect next year. It was put on hold by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson when the ACLU sued the day after the measure passed. The ACLU is scheduled to ask Henderson today to keep an injunction in place while the case is being decided.

The measure increases prison terms for sex offenders and increases reporting requirements for them. Registered sex offenders in California would be required under the law to report to law enforcement all Internet identifiers and Internet service providers they use. Registrants also would have to provide in writing any changes or additions to their Internet accounts and screen names.

Speech Limits

Anonymous speech on the Internet can be restricted when the state has an important interest in doing so and the limitations are narrowly tailored, lawyers for the state said in court filings.

The ACLU said the new rules let police investigate offenders even if there’s no crime committed. The law is so broad that law enforcement officers can snoop into online communications and require offenders to turn over login information for bank accounts. The group, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sued on behalf of sex offenders.

Sex offenders are already required to fill out a form after release from prison or parole reporting where they intend to live. Offenders must also register with the police department near their home and update the information every 30 days if they move. They must also report any name changes.

Fingerprints, Photographs

Prior to Proposition 35, sex offenders also had to supply the name and address of employers, fingerprints and a current photograph and license plate number. Starting last year, the California Justice Department’s registration form included fields to report e-mail addresses and screen names and social networks used.

Police are allowed to access the computer system that stores the information, and Internet identifying information is currently only available to the Justice Department.

The case is Doe v. Harris, 12-05713, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

To contact the reporters on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at kgullo@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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