Georgia Sex-Offender Internet Law Raises Privacy Concerns

Published March 1, 2009

An aggressive new law in Georgia requiring sex offenders to turn over the passwords they use on the Internet has raised concerns among privacy advocates.

The law, which took effect at the start of 2009, complies with and expands on guidelines outlined in a 2006 federal law requiring authorities to track Internet addresses of known sex offenders.

Only a few states currently comply with the guidelines, and the Georgia law is the first to require sex offenders to turn over their Internet passwords, effectively eliminating any form of Internet privacy for these individuals.

Criminalizing Legal Acts

The intent behind such laws is to decrease the number of people a sex offender can contact, thereby decreasing their ability to commit repeat offenses. The Internet has become a hotbed of controversy concerning sex offenders, as they often contact and meet their prey through message boards, instant messaging, and chat rooms.

Gennady Stolyarov II of the Ludwig von Mises Institute calls Georgia’s measures an unacceptable invasion of privacy.

“I consider the Georgia law tracking the online activities of sex offenders to be unjustified,” Stolyarov said. He noted the purpose of laws is to punish people for harming others, and he said sex offenders certainly deserve punishment for their harmful acts. However, he added, “The purpose of laws is not to monitor or prevent every possible activity that could lead to” such actions in the future.

Maintaining a Stigma

Stolyarov stresses punishment should be for actual crimes, not for acts that are legal for other people.

“Known sex offenders should be punished again—if and when they commit other offenses,” Stolyarov said. “But preemptively monitoring their Internet usage can only have negative consequences.

“If the sex offenders have truly been ‘reformed’ and no longer intend to commit any crimes,” Stolyarov added, “then continuing to monitor them perpetuates the stigma against them even though they have already served their sentences.”

Creating a Precedent

Stolyarov also says this kind of law can set a dangerous precedent for future privacy cases. He mentions as an example the Social Security Act of 1935, which President Franklin Roosevelt promised would not be used for individual identification but is now used for exactly that purpose.

“After all, if the government can monitor the activities of sex offenders, whom will it want to monitor next?” Stolyarov asked. “Next the government might target people who misfiled their taxes or failed to comply with any of thousands of highly demanding regulations in their field of business.”