Dec 182012

Only in California…

I saw an article in the National Post today, Convicted sex offenders have a right to privacy, advocates say, that is repugnant on first (and second..n) read. The gist of it is that the ACLU is holding up a law passed by plebiscite  a California last month by an 80% majority. The “proposition,” numbered 35 and to be implemented next year, compels convicted sex offenders (who have obviously by this point done their time) to reveal to police their Facebook and other online social accounts along with their residential address and so forth.

ACLU lawyers, doing their job, are mounting what looks to be a Constitutional appeal based on the apparent foregoing of First Amendment rights (freedom of speech and assembly, etc., for those without their copy handy) as a result of this law. The surrender of civil rights to the government is not something to be taken lightly lest the dripping loss of such rights ends up emptying the bucket of civil liberties. It is a good thing that the ACLU is taking up this issue among others.

Still, the repugnance of the situation suggests that we can hope that their legal counsel is second rate. What is repugnant is the mere thought of protecting the civil liberties of anyone convicted of a crime let alone a sexual offender (and worse yet, the sexual offender of children). It seems that liberties are reasonably suspended if one has breached their civic duties–the counterpoint that gets nearly no attention by comparison to the liberties side of the coin. But what the ACLU is “fighting” for may not be the convicted sex offender so much as for you and me (if you happen to be American, actually) on what its apologists in these cases tend to refer to as the slippery slope: first its sexual offenders, then before long its… If you buy that argument, then what the ACLU is doing is justifiable.

Here’s where the situation loses me in its Scarlet Letter drama: 80% of Californians voted in favour (and we know that people always behave rationally in herds) to compel social network information be turned over to police just as address information. What’s the issue? Is there really a freedom of speech issue here? To my meagre intelligence, it’s not a freedom of speech issue as much as a loss of anonymity issue.  And, last time I looked, the Constitution is fully silent on the issue of anonymity. Think about it: what is really at stake is not the loss of the right to speak or assemble; only the ability to do so either anonymously or pseudonymously or fraudulently. That’s the real issue. People, particularly justifiably convicted (sexual) offenders are considerably at higher risk of reoffence, at least as compared to everyone else, if they know they are not being watched. Hell, everyone–especially the assholes behind the wheel of cars with full blackout windows–is more willing to do what is socially unacceptable when they (feel they) are anonymous.  The Scarlet Letter was obvious and Hester’s liberties were not taken away. The effect was fully felt though.

That, frankly doesn’t seem like the wrong thing to do even if there might be one in 100 convicts who have either reformed or were wrongly imprisoned in the first place.

 Posted by on 18 Dec 2012

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