ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — People on the sex offender registry in New York State can now access the internet and social media platforms without restrictions, except in some cases. The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), Rutgers Law School Constitutional Rights Clinic, and Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York secured a settlement on January 24 ending the ban.
The original Jones et al. v. Stanford complaint was filed against the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and New York Board of Parole in March 2020. The complainants challenged New York’s Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP) and DOCCS Directive 9201.
In 2008, e-STOP was put in place by former Governor Andrew Cuomo while he was Attorney General. The act originally targeted social media platforms like MySpace, AIM and Facebook to keep sex offenders off of those sites. According to NYCLU, e-STOP has since expanded its definition of social media to include websites with profiles, log-ins and subscription services.
The DOCCS website currently says e-STOP applies for those on the sex offender registry if they meet one of the following criteria:
- The victim of the offense was under the age of 18 at the time
- They have been designated a Sex Offender Registry Level 3 sex offender
- The internet was used to facilitate the commission of the crime
According to the amended Jones et al. v. Stanford complaint, Directive 9201 completely banned all internet access for sex offenders under community supervision. This complaint was filed in June 2020.
A major focus of the complaint was that sex offenders who did not use of the internet for the offense were also banned from using the internet. The complaint emphasizes what a vital part of life social media has become and the ban is a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.
In September, a preliminary injunction was put in place, blocking the state from imposing social media restrictions on people convicted of sex offenses who did not use the internet. The approved settlement puts in place a permanent injunction.
“This is a crucial settlement that underscores the reality that in the 21st Century the internet and social media are prerequisites for speech and participation in society,” said Daniel Lambright, senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “With this settlement in place, people convicted of sex offenses that did not involve the use of internet or social media will no longer be banished en masse from an essential resource that helps them reintegrate into society by staying in touch with family, searching for jobs and housing, and reading the news.”
Sex offenders can now only have internet restrictions if there are legitimate concerns about a person’s likelihood of sexually reoffending by using the internet or social media, or where restrictions are deemed necessary to ensure compliance with a specific goal of rehabilitation. DOCCS and the Board of Parole will also be required to report changes to their review system and regularly release information on the implementation of these changes to the counsel in the case.
“By ensuring that parole conditions about internet and social media access are appropriately tied to risk, this settlement both protects the constitutional rights of people on parole and supports their successful reentry,” said Alexis Karteron, Director of the Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic.
In a statement, DOCCS said:
“The Department negotiated and agreed to a settlement in this case. DOCCS staff are in the process of implementing the requirements of the settlement and have 120 days from the date of the stipulation to comply. It is important to highlight that as part of this resolution, the Department retains the ability to impose individualized restrictions when appropriate for the safety of the public.”DOCCS