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The aim of these approaches is understandable, but their effectiveness is questionable, and some experts see potential for it to backfire.
What’s more, the breadth of these restrictions, and the inexactness of who is targeted, raise an issue unlikely to garner much sympathy: fairness to sex offenders. Schneiderman announced that through an initiative dubbed “Operation: Game Over,” several major gaming companies had removed the profiles of more than 3,500 registered sex offenders in the state.
Constitutionally speaking, where can the line be drawn?
There are already strict restrictions placed on where sex offenders can live in the real-world — how far can we go in limiting their existence in the virtual realm?
“It’s when offenders feel that there is nothing left to lose — no job, no family, no place to live, no social contacts — that they can be most willing to flout the law and do something stupid.” In general, he says, the “‘one size fits all’ approach is often counter-productive as well as expensive to enforce.” There are echoes here to the debate over the online classified site Backpage, in which there is general agreement over the goal of eradicating child trafficking but disagreement over how that can be achieved.
In the case of restricting sex offenders from certain online venues, the question isn’t whether the aim of protecting children and adults alike from sexual abuse is necessary, but rather whether these are effective, beneficial and fair ways of going about it.
“If you’re convicted of a crime and you serve your time, there are very few things that extend beyond that — like some states have felony disenfranchisements and that sort of stuff,” Robson explains.
It isn’t just that Cantor disbelieves in such broad and ineffective restrictions but also that it might backfire.
“One of the best ingredients in rehabilitating sex offenders appears to be helping them reintegrate into their community, not isolating them,” he says.
“But when the United States Supreme Court upheld civil commitment and sex offender registries and all of that, they talked about it as civil and as not criminal.” Now, in evaluating whether bills like the one in Louisiana infringe on First Amendment rights, courts “don’t have an analogy, so sometimes they go toward criminal law, as though these people are in prison and as if this is part of punishment.” Of course, many people believe that there are compelling reasons for that.
As anyone who has ever watched TV news knows, some offenders use the Internet — whether it’s through chat rooms or a social networking site — to victimize children, but the threat is overblown, according to research from the Internet Safety Technical Task Force.
Similarly, the online dating sites are only screening out sex offenders who provide identifying information that matches what is on the registry.