If this law provides any protection, it is minimal at best. It is hard to imagine that any knowledgeable person could dispute the proposed law’s ineffectiveness. E-mail addresses are easily created using fake or anonymous information.
In past months, MySpace has announced that they have discovered 36,000 registered sex offenders who signed up as members of their site. Several of these have been arrested for possible parole violations. I have kept a close eye on these developments and am aware of only two who have been charged with an attempt to solicit a minor online.
This issue came to the fore with MSNBC’s “To Catch a Predator” sting. Apparently, lawmakers did not pay very close attention to the show. As reported to a hearing held by the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee last October, out of the over 229 perpetrators caught in the sting, only 4 were registered sex offenders.
A panel of experts recently reported to the Internet Safety Technical Task Force that "the risk of a child being forced into sex from an online predator is almost non-existent. And in the relatively few cases where a youth does engage in sex with someone they first met online, both the meetings and the sex are usually voluntary."
The law also likely has constitutional problems. The e-mail addresses are to be supplied to social networking sites and “other online services” so that these individuals may be monitored or blocked from the sites. Who are these “social networking” sites and “other online services”? Would they include Internet discussion forums provided by many news outlets? Would they include YouTube or blogging sites where anyone can publish their views? Would these sites block the participation of registered sex offenders?
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on numerous occasions that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission states: “Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.”
This legislation is also based on other faulty premises. The New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's press release which announced the proposal of this law states: “Sex offenders have been shown to have recidivism rates far higher than those who commit other types of crimes.” Governor Paterson stated that sex predators have a 90% recidivism rate.
A registered sex offender might want to publish the real facts online. Unfortunately, this legislation may make it impossible for him to do so. In our society, the right of free speech must be protected even for “unpopular individuals.” If not, we may all be denied the right to hear and speak the truth.