SCongress has passed a bill compelling registered sex offenders to submit "email addresses, instant message addresses and other identifying Internet information" to law enforcement. The legislation is sponsored by John McCain, who is not uncoincidentally running for president. The bill, which has passed both houses of Congress and is expected to be signed into law by Bush, aims to protect children from sexual advances on social network sites. Facebook, MySpace, and others are meant to cross-check their user databases with the federal list, and, in the parlance of these types of laws, "delete online predators." But these bills are so broken from the start: what's to keep a past sex offender from just using multiple online identities? Oh, and then there's that whole sticky issue of protecting freedom of speech for those who've served their criminal sentences. Courts in Utah — yes, that Utah — have just ruled on that, providing bad news for those who supported the McCain bill.After a challenge to a similar state law in Utah last week, a federal judge restored a sex offender's right to anonymous speech online. Though the judge stated that this decision should not apply unilaterally to all registered sex offenders, her ruling is the first to question the conventional wisdom: that curbing online speech can curb sex crimes. Free speech advocates and social network analysts have long been claiming that this approach won't work. First, there's the problem of the expansive definition of "sex crime" — from violent assault to public nudity. On that basis, Flickr has at least one employee who, after bending over bare-assed for his colleagues, could be banned from the Internet. Add to that that state and Federal lawmakers still can't seem to grasp the qualitative difference between a sixteen year old flashing her boycrush and a fifty year old posing as the same sixteen year old. Toss with a little bit of election-year mania about being tough on crime, and you get a botched bill that may only drive sex offenders further from the public eye — the opposite of the safer, happier Internet McCain hoped to create. (Photo by soggydan)
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