Should child sex offenders have the right to access social media sites like Facebook? The ball will be on the Supreme Court’s hands as it is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Monday in a First Amendment case about child offenders’ constitutional right versus the danger they pose to society, especially vulnerable children, by using social media.
The Supreme Court is set to discuss Packingham vs. North Carolina concerning Lester Packingham who was convicted of taking “indecent liberties” with a minor and later went online and posted messages on Facebook thanking God for “ helping” him avoid getting a traffic ticket. Packingham was arrested at that time for breaking a North Carolina law that prohibits the use of commercial social networking websites by sex offenders. Packingham elevated his case to the Supreme Court, and the highest court granted his petition to determine whether the North Carolina law infringes on his constitutional rights specifically First Amendment which protects his rights to free speech and expression.
For its part, North Carolina wrote a brief to the Supreme Court arguing that Packingham does not have the right to use websites such as Facebook since its law prohibits access to websites where the sex offender knows minor children are members and can therefore interact with the vulnerable minors. North Carolina also asserts that the petitioner does not have the moral ascendancy to challenge the law, and a poor candidate to be initiating such challenge since he is objecting to a state ban on accessing a website that in the first place he had no legal right to access even minus the law.
North Carolina likewise opposes the suggestion of the petitioner for a series of ‘less restrictive alternatives’, all of which will not protect children until it is too late, and ultimately defeating the very purpose of the statute.
Lawyers of Packingham, on the other hand, criticized the state for supposedly failing to recognize the protections provided under the First Amendment. The attorneys also challenged the North Carolina law as an “overboard”.
It would be interesting to find out how the Supreme Court will eventually decide on the matter as this could prove to be a landmark case. What will the highest court give more weight to – protection of children against sex offenders online or a convicted person’s claims that he has a right to continually access social media emanating from his constitutionally-protected rights?