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ACLU, EFF challenge law targeting online activities of sex offenders

A voter-approved law targeting human trafficking violates the free speech rights of sex offenders, the groups say

Two civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit challenging parts of a California ballot measure that requires registered sex offenders to turn over their Internet identities and service providers to police.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation said parts of Proposition 35 restrict the constitutionally protected speech of all registered sex offenders in the state. About 81 percent of Californians voted to approve the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act, which increases prison sentences and fines for human traffickers.

Portions of Proposition 35 would require all registered sex offenders -- even those with decades-old, low-level offenses like misdemeanor indecent exposure -- to turn over information about their Internet accounts to police, the EFF and ACLU said in a press release. It's unclear what information sex offenders would be required to turn over, but the information could include email addresses and user names for a variety of websites, the groups said.

The law would require more than 73,000 Californians to turn over the information to police, the groups said. Under the law, sex offenders would be required to report any new Internet accounts and screen names to police within 24 hours, with potential prison time for those who don't.

Many California prosecutors, law enforcement officials and politicians endorsed the measure, which was pushed by Chris Kelly, Facebook's former chief privacy officer.

Supporters said the law will protect children against online predators.

"The Internet has changed the way we live, mostly for the better, but it has given criminals new means to prey on their victims," Kelly said in an earlier statement. "It became clear to me while working at Facebook that, to build a safer online infrastructure, we need better and enforceable laws to deter online predators."

On Wednesday, the day after the election, the EFF and ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit against Proposition 35 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

"The ability to speak freely and even anonymously is crucial for free speech to remain free for all of us," Michael Risher, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. "Stopping human trafficking is a worthy goal, but this portion of Prop 35 won't get us there."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.


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