Convicted sex offenders may soon have to give over their internet passwords if a new Georgia law goes into place. A federal judge is currently weighing the issue, which would require sex offenders to hand over all of their internet access credentials, including passwords, screen names and email addresses.
The law stems from a federal law passed in 2006 that requires states to track the email addresses of sex offenders. Georgia would be one of the first states to take the law even further and require intense monitoring of sex offender’s online activities. Proponents of the law say that such monitoring would keep sexual predators, who are well known for using the internet to facilitate their crimes, from striking again. But opponents say that the law impinges on the fundamental right to free speech.
The case is currently under consideration by U.S. District Judge Bill Duffey. Duffey heard arguments from both sides. The complainant was convicted sex offender Terrence White, whose attorney argued that the new law would infringe his constitutional rights. According to Duffey, he did not rule on the case immediately because the case dealt with “a fundamental issue of our culture.”
“Children do have to be protected, but that also has to be balanced with constitutional protections,” said Duffey to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “And I never take those lightly.”
The complainant, White, was convicted in 1986 of enticing a child for indecent purposes. His attorney, Nicole Innarone, has contended that the new law is written so broadly that it would allow officials access to information such as online banking passwords and retail account information. The wording of the law allows officials to access to anything termed an “online interactive forum.”
“The statute is over-broad, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the mission of protecting children,” Innarone told the AJC.
White may get his wish. There is a precedent, and it does not favor the new law. Back in September, courts in Utah struck down a similar law on the grounds that it violated the privacy rights of the offender who challenged it. According to the AJC, lawmakers in Utah last week amended their sex offender registry, and now law enforcement can only use sex offender’s online information to investigate other sex crimes.
The state’s attorney, Paige Boorman, has argued that the information is merely “tools for law enforcement,” and will help them use the internet to investigate and prevent sex crimes.
During the proceedings, Duffey focused on the fine line the law walks between public safety and freedom of speech.
What do you think? Should Georgia sex offenders have to hand over their online passwords and other information? Or does freedom of speech apply even to those convicted of heinous crimes, as long as they have done their time? The case can go either way. Stay tuned to find out how Judge Duffey decides.