Photo credit: New York Times
There's no denying that the United States legal system has helped turn the Internet into what it is today. For example, the Zeran v. America Online, Inc. Supreme Court case ruled that service providers cannot be prosecuted if users post illegal content, and Religious Technology Center v. Netcom established that linking to another site didn't count as stealing. In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court has decided that citizens cannot be blocked from accessing the internet by state or federal laws.
The case in question is Packingham v. North Carolina, in which Lester Packingham argued that a North Carolina law blocking registered sex offenders from accessing social media sites violated the First Amendment. He was convicted of taking "indecent liberties" with a minor in 2002, and was arrested in 2010 after police found his Facebook account. He appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which reversed the ruling, but the NC Supreme Court later affirmed the conviction.
The federal Supreme Court began evaluating the case in February, and unanimously decided that the North Carolina law was unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy reaffirmed in his opinion that internet access is incredibly important in the modern world we live in:
While in the past there may have been difficulty in identifying the most important places (in a spatial sense) for the exchange of views, today the answer is clear. It is cyberspace—the “vast democratic forums of the Internet” in general, Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, 868 (1997), and social media in particular. Seven in ten American adults use at least one Internet social networking service. Brief for Electronic Frontier Foundation et al. as Amici Curiae 5–6. One of the most popular of these sites is Facebook, the site used by petitioner leading to his conviction in this case. According to sources cited to the Court in this case, Facebook has 1.79 billion active users. Id., at 6. This is about three times the population of North America.
Social media offers “relatively unlimited, low-cost capacity for communication of all kinds.” Reno, supra, at 870. On Facebook, for example, users can debate religion and politics with their friends and neighbors or share vacation photos. On LinkedIn, users can look for work, advertise for employees, or review tips on entrepreneurship. And on Twitter, users can petition their elected representatives and otherwise engage with them in a direct manner. Indeed, Governors in all 50 States and almost every Member of Congress have set up accounts for this purpose. See Brief for Electronic Frontier Foundation 15–16. In short, social media users employ these websites to engage in a wide array of protected First Amendment activity on topics “as diverse as human thought.”
Justices Alito, Roberts, and Thomas agreed with the overall opinion, but some believed that the ruling went too far. Justice Alito wrote:
I cannot join the opinion of the Court, however, because of its undisciplined dicta. The Court is unable to resist musings that seem to equate the entirety of the internet with public streets and parks.... And this language is bound to be interpreted by some to mean that the States are largely powerless to restrict even the most dangerous sexual predators from visiting any internet sites, including, for example, teenage dating sites and sites designed to permit minors to discuss personal problems with their peers. I am troubled by the implications of the Court’s unnecessary rhetoric.
You can find more information about the ruling at the source link below.
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