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Monday, March 8, 2010

Critics Slam Kamala Harris' Sex Offender Social Media Law As Unconstitutional

Posted By on Mon, Mar 8, 2010 at 12:01 AM

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Last week, District Attorney Kamala Harris announced she was sponsoring state legislation to keep registered sex offenders from being able to use social networking Web sites. But would such a law be constitutional? Civil libertarians say no

"Restrictions that ban sexual offenders from living near schools and

parks are tied to the idea that very young people use those facilities,

whereas social networking services are for the general public," says Chris Hoofnagle, the director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology's information privacy programs. "Social

networking sites are so important today it would be like banning sex

offenders from using the telephone."

Hoofnagle adds that the

law could affect non-sex offenders in having to prove they aren't a sex

offender to the online service by disclosing information to be compared to the sex offender registry.   

Some critics have lambasted the measure as a misguided attack on the civil

liberties of a group that voters love to hate in a year Harris is running for Attorney General.

But Harris' spokeswoman, Erica Derryck, says that the legislation is in

keeping with the district attorney's support for children throughout her career. "It's

trying to make sure that the same protection that exists for children

in the brick and mortal world exists online." The New York State

Attorney General authored similar legislation that made Facebook and MySpace remove 5,000 accounts by the end of 2009.

Derryck says that sex offenders don't get the same rights as everyone else. "We already have laws that say these people aren't entitled to the same access as other people enjoy as a result of past criminal conduct." 

Hoofnagle argues this just

further ostracizes a group already confined to society's margins. As we

wrote about in a December feature, nearly all of the sex offenders

paroled to San Francisco are homeless because of Jessica's Law's restrictions keeping them 200 feet from parks and schools. If this law goes through, they can't even tweet about it.

"There's

no limit to the indignity we can put on this class of people and it

seems to depart from reality when most of the abuse is not

stranger-on-stranger," Hoofnagle says.  

Harris' press release trumpeting her initiative declares that one in five children have been sexually solicited online. Yet Jake Goldenflame, a registered sex offender in San Francisco who has written books and appeared on Oprah to address this topic, says very few of those solicitors are registered sex offenders.

"They're not career offenders, they're average people," Goldenflame

says. Yet "people will have a false sense of security" that children

are safe online because of the legislation. "[Harris] says she's

protecting children. No, she's not. She's running for office, and she's

using this as one of her ploys to get more votes."

Goldenflame argues that study after study

shows that the majority of sex crimes on children are committed by

adults they know -- not strangers online. Also, registered sex

offenders' ranks include people whose crimes happened decades ago and had

nothing to do with children - - convicted for anything as grave as

rape to something as light as a misdemeanor for indecent exposure.


  

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Lauren Smiley

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