Indiana Daily Student

Judge strikes down new sex registry law

INDIANAPOLIS – A new state law that would have allowed the computers of sex offenders to be searched long after their sentences had been served violates their constitutional privacy rights, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.\nStarting July 1, the law would require sex offenders enrolling in the state’s public registry to submit e-mail addresses and user names for instant-messaging programs, chat rooms and social-networking sites.\nThose who provide that information would have to sign a consent form allowing searches of their computers or other Internet-enabled devices at any time. They would also have to install software that monitors their Internet activity at their expense.\nFailure to consent to those measures would be a felony.\nThe restrictions already were conditions of probation, but the American Civil Liberties Union challenged their use on privacy grounds for sex offenders who must still register but have finished serving parole or probation.\nU.S. District Judge David Hamilton agreed with their claims.\n“The unprecedented new law, however well-intentioned, violates the Fourth Amendment rights of the plaintiff class, who have completed their sentences and are no longer on probation, parole or any other kind of court supervision,” Hamilton wrote in a 51-page ruling.\n“The state may not force them to waive those rights under threat of criminal prosecution for failing or refusing to do so,” the ruling said.\nIn defending the lawsuit, the state argued among other things that sex crimes were a serious threat in the U.S. and there was a “special need” to conduct suspicionless searches of sex offenders’ Internet-capable computers and telephones at any time to protect the public.\nThe state attorney general’s office was reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment, said spokeswoman Staci Schneider.\nSex offenders generally must be actively registered for 10 years after their release from prison, but some face the restriction for life.\nState Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, sponsored the bill that ultimately included the new computer search language. The bill originally had nothing to do with sex offenders.\nBut late in the session, a conference committee inserted several provisions — including the ones dealing with computers — that Waterman said he supported.\nA message seeking comment was left at Waterman’s home on Tuesday.\nHe said when the lawsuit was filed last April that the law was another way to protect children from sexual predators, in this case those who seek out victims through the Internet.\nKen Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana, said the law meant that at 2 a.m. someone could show up and demand to look at the computers of those who had been restored their civil rights.\nHe has said the computer might belong to a spouse or someone else living in the residence and include private financial information.\nThe class action lawsuit had two original plaintiffs. One is a Marion County man using the name “John Doe” who had been convicted of child molesting. The other is a Scott County man who has convictions for child molestation and sexual misconduct with a minor.\nBoth are required to register for life as sex offenders, the suit said, and had concerns about the privacy of financial and business information on their computers.

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