A US federal court has overturned a Pennsylvania man's lifetime ban on using computers and accessing the internet. The court said the ban would hinder the man - convicted in 2005 of possessing child pornography - denying ability to work or go to school, according to court documents.
In May 2005, Daniel Voelker pleaded guilty to the charge of possessing child pornography and was sentenced to five years and 11 months in prison by a Pennsylvania district court judge. Voelker appealed the judge's decision to ban him from using a computer or going online as a condition of his probation.
According to court documents, Voelker, 35, was arrested during an FBI investigation into the online activity of another man. Voelker admitted downloading child pornography on to his computer and told the agents where they could find the computer discs where he stored the files.
As part of his probation, a US district judge prohibited Voelker from "accessing any computer equipment or any 'on-line' computer service at any location, including employment or education. This includes, but is not limited to, any internet service provider, bulletin board system, or any other public or private computer network."
Last year, Voelker appealed that part of his sentence to the US District Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania, saying the ban would hinder his ability to do his job. From 1996 until his arrest in 2004, Voelker worked as a respiratory therapist. In his appeal, he claimed that he needed access to computers to maintain patient records.
The appeals court agreed, saying that although federal court judges can impose more specific conditions to an offender's probation, those conditions must impose "no greater deprivation of liberty than is reasonably necessary to deter future criminal conduct, protect the public and rehabilitate the defendant". The appeals court sent the case back to Bloch for a hearing.
Neither defense lawyer Renee Pietropaolo nor US Attorney Robert L Eberhardt could be reached for comment.
The court said the lifetime ban on all computer equipment and the internet is the same as "prohibiting a defendant who pleads guilty to possession of magazines containing child pornography from ever possessing any books or magazines of any type during the remainder of his/her life."
The appeals court said that rather than cut off Voelker's access to email and the internet, probation officers could do random inspections of Voelker's hard drive or removable disks to make sure he was not accessing pornographic sites and images.
However, during the appeals hearing, the prosecutors argued that the ban was necessary because the probation office lacked sufficient funding or personnel to monitor Voelker's computer use.