By Bob Egelko
The state asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to allow enforcement of a voter-approved law requiring 73,000 registered sex offenders in California to disclose their Internet identities to police.
The law was part of Proposition 35, approved by an 81 percent majority in November. U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco blocked the Internet disclosure requirement from taking effect, saying it was not narrowly targeted at preventing sex crimes and would discourage offenders from exercising their free speech right to post anonymous comments online.
At Tuesday's appeals court hearing, a state lawyer said the law would help police solve sex crimes with an Internet component - like recruiting or harassing victims online. It would not intrude on privacy or free speech, he argued.
"It just gives law enforcement a directory, if they need to (locate) someone in a hurry," Deputy Attorney General Robert Wilson told the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. "Private communications are still off limits to law enforcement."
- How is knowing someones Internet ID's going to help find someone quickly?
But attorney Michael Risher of the American Civil Liberties Union said Prop. 35 would allow police to release any information they considered necessary to protect the public, including a sex offender's Internet identity. He also said the measure applies to all websites and to offenders whom authorities do not classify as dangerous.
"This is a law that directly targets speech," Risher told the three-judge panel. He said it would deter online criticism of police and government agencies, and also said Henderson had found that many of the online sites covered by Prop. 35 posed no risk of sex trafficking.
The ballot measure required all Californians who must register as sex offenders, for crimes ranging from rape to indecent exposure, to provide police with their e-mail addresses, Internet user names and the names of their Internet service providers.
When Wilson assured the court that police would keep the information to themselves and would not monitor private e-mails, Judge Jay Bybee suggested the public might be skeptical in this "era where we're wondering whether all our information is monitored by the NSA (National Security Agency)."
But Bybee also noted that another federal appeals court had upheld a similar Utah law in 2010. Risher replied that the Utah law placed more restrictions on release of private information, and also argued that the court in that case had been too deferential to the government.