Facebook use by offenders under Supreme Court lens

Facebook use by offenders under Supreme Court lens

U.S. Supreme Court justices cast doubt on a North Carolina law that bars registered sex offenders from using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

As the youngest member of the court and one who spent time as dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan demonstrated the most intimate knowledge of social media - at one point noting that the law's exceptions for chat rooms and photo-sharing sites created "a constitutional right to use Snapchat but not to use Twitter".

Packingham landed in hot water with state authorities again after he took to Facebook to celebrate the dismissal of a traffic ticket.

"In 2008, North Carolina chose to prohibit sex offenders from being at virtual places where children congregate online - specifically, commercial social networking websites", Montgomery said.

A 21-year-old college student at the time, Packingham was indicted in Cabarrus County on two counts of statutory rape of a 13-year-old.

He got a suspended sentence of 10-12 months and his name was placed on a registry of sex offenders.

Packingham was convicted, but soon appealed, arguing that the law violates his First Amendment right to free speech. The law targets speech on some of the platforms that Americans use most often-indeed, Goldberg noted, under the law Packingham could not even use Twitter to read the myriad messages discussing his own case-and imposes punishment without regard to whether the sex offender has actually done anything wrong.

In 2010, a Durham police officer was using his own Facebook account to look for people who shouldn't be on the site.

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He argues the state could protect children online without harming free speech, such as by charging sex offenders who access websites for "nefarious purposes".

"It's a crime to do anything, including what Mr. Packingham did, which was to say "God is good" because he was victorious in traffic court", said Stanford law professor David Goldberg, who will represent Packingham at the Supreme Court Monday.

Private companies like Facebook can and do ban sex offenders from their sites, hoping to keep kids safe from the darker corners of the internet.

Hearing arguments in Washington, a majority of the justices indicated they read the law as going too far in restricting First Amendment rights and cutting off services that have become nearly indispensable to millions of Americans.

In response to a question from Justice Stephen Breyer about the basis for the state's decision to limit all access to such sites, Montgomery replied that there are "no enforceable less restrictive ways" to accomplish the state's goals.

The vast majority of the more than 800,000 sex offenders nationwide are required to register their names, addresses and photographs on registries maintained by states, Clark said.

"These people are being cut out from a very large part of the marketplace of ideas", Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said of North Carolina's registered sex offenders. Thirteen states have joined a brief supporting the attorney general's brief.

States are trying "to come up with a practical solution to the practical problem of sex offenders being on social media and harvesting information about our children and then soliciting them online", he said. But Packingham's lawyers argue that he was not using the site to interact with minors or in an appropriate way, the exact behavior the law aims to ban. "They just can't say it on Facebook", said Clark.

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