ACLU challenges California's Proposition 35 increasing penalties for sex offenders

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] on Wednesday temporarily blocked [order, PDF] several provisions of a human trafficking law approved by voters Tuesday. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) joined with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) [advocacy websites] to challenge [complaint, PDF; press release] portions of the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act [campaign website], enacted by Proposition 35 [text, PDF], that require all registered sex offenders, even those with decades-old misdemeanors and non-Internet related offenses, to turn in their Internet usage information to law enforcement. Focusing on the proposition's broadness and "constitutional infirmities," the complaint notes that Proposition 35 "require[s] registrants to provide information about online activities that have no possible relationship to criminality, such as the screen names they use to post comments about articles on a newspaper's website or names that they use to access political discussion groups." Judge Thelton Henderson found that plaintiffs' arguments merited a temporary restraining order (TRO):

In this case, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have raised serious questions about whether the challenged sections of the CASE Act violate their First Amendment right to free speech and other constitutional rights. In addition, the balance of hardships tips sharply in favor of issuing a TRO. Defendant Harris's counsel represented to the Court that the State would be in no position to enforce the law until March 20, 2013. The harm to Defendants of a TRO therefore appears to be minimal. ... Plaintiffs, by contrast, would suffer the potential loss of their "ability to speak anonymously on the Internet," which is protected by the First Amendment.
The EFF and ALCU-NC are careful to point out they support stopping human trafficking [JURIST news archive], but disagree with some of the measures taken by this law.

Proposition 35 was approved [Los Angeles Times report] 81 percent of California voters. The law seeks to increase criminal penalties on human traffickers, requires persons convicted of human trafficking to register as a sex offenders and implements human trafficking training for police officers. Some have criticized [CA Secretary of State website] the proposition for being too broad, as it demands lifetime registration for even very minor sex offenses like public urination and can prosecute anyone for receiving financial support from a registered offender. This law might affect more than 73,000 Californians, who would also have to report any new accounts or usernames they create to law enforcement within 24 hours of their creation or face potential criminal penalties, including imprisonment.

 

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