Supreme Court strikes down sex offender social media ban

Washington, Jun 19 The US Supreme Court unanimously struck down today a North Carolina law that barred registered sex offenders from using social media. But any such laws, the decision made clear, can not simply close the Internet to those convicted of sexual crimes. North Carolina, a case that argued the validity of a law that made it a felony for registered sex offenders to access social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter if they may encounter minors. "It is cyberspace", Kennedy wrote.

While we now may be coming to the realization that the Cyber Age is a revolution of historic proportions, we can not appreciate yet its full dimensions and vast potential to alter how we think, express ourselves, and define who we want to be.

This is one of the Supreme Court's few cases so far about the constitutionality of social media, and one of the few major decisions to say online access is a basic American right. A basic rule, for example, is that a street or a park is a quintessential forum for the exercise of First Amendment rights ...

The 2008 legislative package came about at a time that state attorneys general across the nation were raising concerns about social media sites such as Facebook and Myspace, hoping to protect users from sexual predators using the networks. North Carolina, centers on sex offender Lester Packingham, who was convicted for posting "God is Good!"

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State Department warned of possible attacks on Western diplomatic missions and other locations in Bamako that Westerners frequent. Other notable forwards left unprotected were Los Angeless Dustin Brown, Montreals Tomas Plekanec and Pittsburghs Chris Kunitz .

The US Supreme Court [official website] held [opinion, PDF] on Monday in Packingham v. As a result, he was required to register as a sex offender.

In 2010, Packingham had a traffic ticket dismissed and boasted about the event on Facebook. And he took as a given, for the sake of argument, that states could "enact specific, narrowly tailored laws that prohibit a sex offender from engaging in conduct that often presages a sexual crime". He was not accused of having contacted a minor in entering his message.

In an opinion that was joined in full by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Justice Anthony Kennedy began by outlining what he described as a "fundamental principle of the First Amendment": that everyone should "have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more". Packingham had no further sex offenses after his conviction.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas cautioned that Kennedy's "loose rhetoric" could prevent states from taking any measures to restrict convicted sex offenders on the internet. That, according to the high court, simply isn't acceptable in light of the role Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and others play in current public communication. Denniston has written for us as a contributor since June 2011 and has covered the Supreme Court since 1958.

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