New Jersey Joins Other States in Restricting ?Internet Use by Sex Offenders
On December 27, 2007, New Jersey enacted legislation to restrict convicted sex offenders’ Internet use. Acting Governor Richard J. Codey relied on public hysteria over several well-publicized cases of online sexual predators to justify his sponsoring and signing the bill.
“We live in scary times,” said Codey. “Parents have to worry about people preying on their kids even while they’re in the safety of their own homes.”
Codey’s statement is particularly ironic in light of a recent Human Rights Watch report on sex offender laws in the United States, which found that over 90% of sex crimes against children are committed by someone they know. The newly-enacted Internet restrictions will do nothing to prevent such offenses.
The New Jersey law restricts Internet usage for any sex offender who used a computer during the commission of a sex offense. It also imposes restrictions on sex offenders who are on lifetime parole supervision, regardless of whether they used a computer as part of their crime. There are about 4,200 parolees who would fall under the law’s requirements; exemptions are allowed for computer access as part of employment or during job searches.
The law requires all paroled sex offenders to notify the parole board of their computer usage. Such parolees will be subject to periodic, unannounced searches of their computer systems, and must install hardware that allows their computers to be monitored. Parole officers are authorized to administer polygraph tests to verify computer use; a sex offender who unlawfully accesses the Internet will face up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
In November 2007, the New Jersey parole board introduced new rules banning paroled sex offenders from social networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook. The rules were enacted after New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram subpoenaed several social networking sites and discovered hundreds of profiles of registered sex offenders. Accounts belonging to 268 New Jersey sex offenders were found on MySpace alone.
Other states that restrict Internet access by sex offenders who are not on parole include Florida, Nevada and Indiana. However, some states have stricter restrictions for paroled sex offenders. Texas, for example, prohibits sex offenders on parole from owning or operating computers.
In a similar vein, Wisconsin is considering requiring sex offenders to register their email addresses and websites maintained for personal use. PLN has previously reported on crackdowns on Internet access by sex offenders, including access to social networking sites. [See: PLN, May 2008, p.26].
On June 24, 2008, a federal court in Indiana issued a declaratory judgment in a class action suit challenging that state’s sex offender Internet restrictions. Under the Indiana law, registered sex offenders who were no longer on parole had to “consent to the search of their personal computers or devices with Internet capability at any time, and ... must consent to installation on the same devices, at their expense, of hardware or software to monitor their Internet use.” Failure to “consent” to these requirements constituted a felony offense.
The district court found that such restrictions, imposed on sex offenders who had completed their sentences and terms of parole, forced “an unconstitutional choice” on the plaintiff class and violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. See: Doe v. Prosecutor, Marion County, U.S.D.C., SD Ind., Case No. 1:08-cv-0436-DFH-TAB; 2008 WL 2600177.
As states continue to enact more intrusive restrictions on Internet access by sex offenders, such laws will continue to face legal challenges.
Meanwhile, three New Jersey sex offenders on parole were arrested in May 2008 and charged under the state’s new Internet restriction law. State police who set up fake accounts on MySpace and Facebook to monitor sex offenders acknowledged that the men had not done anything improper online, but stated they were “not allowed to be on there doing anything.”
Sources: Associated Press, www.postcresent.com, www.newsday.com, www.nj.com
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Related legal case
Doe v. Prosecutor, Marion County
|Cite||2008 WL 2600177|