By Margaret Rock
Courts can ban sex criminals from Facebook and Twitter, but in San Diego, social media is being considered a First Amendment right, a freedom available to everyone -- even child molesters.
In Brief boils down complex events to give you the heart of the matter -- today and what it means for tomorrow -- clearly and simply.
A teen convicted of molestation can't be kept off social media, according to a court ruling, in a case that raises questions about the Internet's role in crime and punishment. Some argue social media is a First Amendment right, and it should be treated like other forms of freedom of speech, which can't be taken away.
Others think sites like Facebook and Twitter aren't covered, and prohibiting or curtailing use, like limiting a certain distance sex offenders can live from schools, is not only appropriate, but effective. In this gray area, the San Diego ruling provides a hint of the direction courts and law are taking with the issue. Is access to the Internet and social media an inalienable right? And if so, is it a right for those guilty of sex crimes or even some of the worst criminal offenders imaginable?
What's Happening: A California Appellate Court says a teenage boy who molested a toddler and grabbed and detained a teenage girl has a First Amendment right to use social media and chat rooms, in part because his offenses didn't involve the Internet.
The teen's lawyers argued the terms of his supervised probation -- which include a ban on using a computer for any purpose other than school-related assignments, so he can't maintain a social profile or engage in instant messaging or chat rooms -- went too far. The ban requires him, identified as "Andre" for privacy reasons, to have all computer use "supervised by a responsible adult over the age of 21 who is aware that the minor is on probation and of his charges."
Earlier this month, California Judge Terry O'Rourke ruled (PDF) these probation requirements were invalid because they "are not tailored to Andre's convictions for violating another's personal liberty, willfully annoying and molesting another, unlawful use of force, and lewd and lascivious conduct, or the juvenile court's dual goals of rehabilitation and public safety."
The trial court was ordered to modify the terms of probation, especially on the use of social media and the blanket computer ban.