On a emotionally charged level, it sounds good, because yeah... no one wants little Sally or Jimmy getting pop up chat messages from Danny the Child Molester. But consider the latest Economist cover article, which argues that the definition of "sex offender" is so broad in the United States that a lot of innocent people are going to get caught up in this.
Many people assume that anyone listed on a sex-offender registry must be a rapist or a child molester. But most states spread the net much more widely. A report by Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch, a pressure group, found that at least five states required men to register if they were caught visiting prostitutes. At least 13 required it for urinating in public (in two of which, only if a child was present). No fewer than 29 states required registration for teenagers who had consensual sex with another teenager. And 32 states registered flashers and streakers.Imagine getting drunk one night when you're a stupid 21 year old. Imagine that in your drunken stupor you drop trou and pee on the side of a building in an alley. Along comes a cop, and boom! now you're a registered sex offender. And now you can't use Facebook anymore.
The Economist article is really quite well done - I highly recommend that you all read it. In the meantime, anyone concerned with free speech had better hope that the courts have some sense and strike this new law down as unconstitutional.
One of the more interesting points brought up in the article points out that the lack of granularity in the enforcement of sex offender laws ends up wasting a lot of time and money for local government.
If there are thousands of offenders on a registry, it is harder to keep track of the most dangerous ones. Budgets are tight. Georgia’s sheriffs complain that they have been given no extra money or manpower to help them keep the huge and swelling sex-offenders’ registry up to date or to police its confusing mass of rules. Terry Norris of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association cites a man who was convicted of statutory rape two decades ago for having consensual sex with his high-school sweetheart, to whom he is now married. “It doesn’t make it right, but it doesn’t make him a threat to anybody,” says Mr Norris. “We spend the same amount of time on that guy as on someone who’s done something heinous.”Now factor in the fact that in Illinois, SOMEONE has to actually enforce this law regarding social networking. Will the state waste money hiring people to troll Facebook all day, attempting to match profiles there against known sex offenders? How can you be sure that someone's account is actually matched to a real life sex offender?
Smart criminals will easily circumvent this - it's ridiculously easy to set up a Facebook account under an alias. Anyone can go to an Internet cafe to hide their digital footprints, should authorities go so far as to monitor the network activity of each and every sex offender at home. Meanwhile, perfectly innocent people who made the mistake of having teenage sex once upon a time run the risk of being punished for logging on to Facebook to share pictures with their adult friends.
It's easy to revile sexual predators because we all assume they're all monsters, just waiting to pounce again. And certainly some of them are. But the current classifications are simply unacceptable, and hopefully people will start realizing that some of our laws are borderline cruel when it comes to how we treat sex offenders. A paroled murder might have a body count of a half dozen or more on his record, and he's allowed to move in next door to me, with nary a peep. But a guy who hired a hooker - well, he has to do the walk of shame up and down his neighborhood, announcing his crime to every single person. His name is in a database that anyone can search, including his employers, his friends and any person looking to enact a little vigilante justice on a "scumbag."
Look - this is like being scared of rabid dogs, and then deciding that you should kill any and all small mammals you see, just in case (including cats and bunnies and so forth). It's insane.