US Supreme Court to hear sex of­fender so­cial me­dia ban case

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

The US Supreme Court on Fri­day took up a case test­ing free speech rights in the dig­i­tal age, agree­ing to de­cide whether a North Carolina law ban­ning con­victed sex of­fend­ers from Face­book and other so­cial me­dia sites runs afoul of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

The jus­tices agreed to hear sex of­fender Lester Pack­ing­ham’s ap­peal of his con­vic­tion for vi­o­lat­ing the state law in 2010 when he posted a mes­sage on Face­book ex­press­ing his sur­prise at a traf­fic ci­ta­tion be­ing dis­missed. “Praise be to GOD. WOW! Thanks JE­SUS,” Pack­ing­ham wrote. Lo­cal po­lice saw the Face­book post, prompt­ing his ar­rest. Pack­ing­ham is on North Carolina’s sex of­fender list be­cause of his 2002 con­vic­tion at age 21 on two counts of statu­tory rape of a 13-year-old girl.

The North Carolina law, en­acted in 2008, makes it a felony for peo­ple on the state’s sex of­fender registry to ac­cess web­sites that can lead to so­cial in­ter­ac­tions with mi­nors. The ban ex­tends to sites like Face­book and Twit­ter that al­low peo­ple to cre­ate per­sonal pro­files. The law does not re­quire any proof that the user in­tended to use the site for an il­le­gal pur­pose.

Pack­ing­ham was sen­tenced to six to eight months in prison, sus­pended for a year. An in­ter­me­di­ate ap­peals court threw out the con­vic­tion, say­ing it vi­o­lated the US Con­sti­tu­tion’s First Amend­ment guar­an­tee of free speech. The state Supreme Court re­versed that de­ci­sion last Novem­ber, rul­ing in part that Pack­ing­ham’s free speech rights were not un­duly bur­dened be­cause there are am­ple other web­sites he could ac­cess.

A group of First Amend­ment lawyers had urged the US Supreme Court to take up Pack­ing­ham’s ap­peal. They said so­cial net­work­ing sites have be­come in­dis­pens­able places for speech about fam­ily life, pol­i­tics and re­li­gion, and that the North Carolina law bars ac­cess to some of the most im­por­tant venues for on­line speech.

The court is set to hear oral ar­gu­ments and is­sue a rul­ing by the end of June. The case is not the first the high court has taken up on so­cial me­dia and free speech. In an­other case in­volv­ing Face­book, the jus­tices in 2015 threw out the con­vic­tion of a Penn­syl­va­nia man for mak­ing threat­en­ing state­ments us­ing men­ac­ing lan­guage to­ward his es­tranged wife and oth­ers on the so­cial me­dia site. —Reuters

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