Rights groups were put in an awkward position yesterday after California passed an anti-human trafficking ballot proposition that deters anonymous speech from convicted sex offenders. Specifically, the law forces sex offenders to notify law enforcement everytime they adopt a new online identity, which could allow websites to selectively restrict their comments.
“Stopping human trafficking is a worthy goal, but this portion of Prop 35 won’t get us there,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney, Michael Risher. “When the government starts gathering online profiles for one class of people, we all need to worry about the precedent it sets,” further explained Hanni Fakhoury, a lawyer for digital rights advocacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Both groups are jointly filing a suit to strike down the Internet-related provision in Proposition 35.
Prop 35 won a landslide victory, with a whopping 81 percent approval rating, including a stellar endorsement from the San Francisco Chronicle, which praised the Internet provision. “The other appealing aspect of Prop. 35 is that it would require all sex offenders to disclose their e-mail and social-networking accounts. Once this information reaches the sex-offender registry, it’s only a matter of time until a tech entrepreneur comes up with an app that would allow Californians to automatically block online entreaties from convicted sex offenders,” wrote the editorial board.
Human trafficking and sexual offenders have been a perpetual headache for rights groups, since the crimes are so heinous and are often facilitated by privacy, they often warrant new forays into preserving security at the cost of liberty. And while Prop 35 had its critics, having to defend pedophiles is not a fun task for civil liberty advocates.