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Utah Judge Rules Sex Offender Law Unconstitutional

September 30, 2008 Comments off

Salt Lake Tribune (Utah) : Clearfield sex offender can be anonymous online, judge rules.
09/29/2008

A federal judge has ruled that a state law requiring sex offenders to reveal their Internet screen names and passwords to the Utah Department of Corrections violates the constitutional rights of a Clearfield man.
U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell concluded that the man – identified as John Doe in court documents – retains his First Amendment right to anonymous online speech. The ruling bars the state Corrections Department from requiring Doe to reveal his online identifiers, which include names used in Internet chat rooms and instant messaging.

The judge stressed that her decision, which was handed down Thursday, applies only to Doe. She also noted that an analysis of the constitutionality of the law would be different for people who – unlike Doe – are on parole for their sex crimes.

The ruling is apparently the first in the nation to address whether sex offenders have the First Amendment right to speak anonymously online. It has no effect on the requirement that sex offenders register with the state.

The decision centers on a state law that took effect on July 1 requiring Utah’s nearly 7,000 registered sex offenders to turn over certain Internet information, including screen names and passwords to social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

It is unclear if the decision could allow others on the sex registry to challenge the requirement once they are no longer on parole. The Utah Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the ruling.

In her ruling, Campbell pointed out that nothing in the new law prevents the Corrections Department from linking protected anonymous online speech to a registrant and said that investigators have other tools, such as subpoenas, to unmask suspects in Internet sex crimes. In addition, she wrote, legislators could amend the law if the state wants Doe’s Internet information strictly for law enforcement purposes.