How a Law Aimed at Sex Offenders Could Feed into the Growing Surveillance State
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Phung's brief supporting the new registration requirements stated: “Plaintiffs do not have an unconditional right to remain anonymous. Indeed, the plaintiffs have already lost a significant degree of anonymity as a result of their status as convicted sex offenders.”
There are signs that restricting registrants' access to the Internet, in particular social media, is a growing trend. North Carolina has banned registrants from social networks like Facebook and other chat rooms, and Pennsylvania is considering similar legislation. Earlier this year, a similar ban in Indiana was struck down by a court of appeals.
Fakhoury told AlterNet that EFF is keeping an eye on the various laws restricting registrants' access to the Internet that are cropping up around the country, but the case against the provision in Proposition 35 is the first of its ilk for EFF. “We don't like it when anyone online is required to register their online information—no matter who, whether it's registrants or children.”
In his order granting the preliminary injunction against the provision in January, Judge Henderson wrote, “Just as the Court is mindful ... that the government has a legitimate interest in protecting individuals from online sex offenses and human trafficking, it is equally mindful that 'anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of majority,' and that Plaintiffs enjoy no lesser right to anonymous speech simply because they are 'unpopular.’”
In its decision to uphold or overturn Henderson's preliminary injunction, the court of appeals will redraw the boundaries of registrants’ virtual freedoms, much as the borders to their geographic freedom have already been redrawn numerous times. But in a post-Snowden world, a decision that upholds the right to anonymity—no matter whose—would be a precious one, and it would be difficult to overstate its significance.