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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Texas Attorney General Arrests Convicted Sex Offenders with MySpace Accounts

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The Houston Chronicle reports today in MySpace profiles lead to sex-offender arrests that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has ordered the arrest of convicted sex offenders accused of violating their parole by posting profiles on MySpace. More details on this Houstonist post.

Abbott could not say whether any of the men had actually approached, or tried to have a dialogue with, children on the Internet. “That will be information that our ongoing investigation will determine,” Abbott said. “We wanted to arrest these people as quickly as possible.” Some suspects’ computers were seized for further scrutiny, Abbott said.

The development comes less than a month after MySpace agreed to supply attorneys general nationwide with the names of sex offenders who had profiles on its Web site. It also agreed to provide those users’ Internet protocol addresses, e-mail addresses and personal profile information.

Because parolees are technically still serving out their sentences, just in the community rather than in prison, they are subject to restrictions which could not otherwise be made on someone who had served their entire sentence and been released from prison. As the article notes – “Sex offenders are told not to use the Internet while on parole,” according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons.

The conditions that can be imposed on parole may not be unlawful, immoral, or impossible but beyond that are subject only to a broad rule of reasonableness in which the state seems to be given a very wide latitude by the courts. Parolees do have some limited protection under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a hearing for instance. It will be interesting if any are able to challenge the revocation of parole on constitutional grounds. For instance, in Hyland a requirement that a parolee get permission from his parole officer before making a public speech was a sufficient violation of 1st Amendment rights. Hyland v. Procunier, 311 F. Supp. 749 (N.D. Cal. 1970). It may be that we have reached an age where internet access is such a fundamental activity so intimately attached to free speech that denying it without justification could be construed as unreasonable.That argument would have a modicum of resonance with me, though perhaps not with the kind of judge who has to ask what a website is or who is under the impression that a computer’s RAM is a tangible document that must be turned over as evidence.

That’s precisely the question Nicole Hines seeks to answer in this post on iBlawg, from the Duke Law & Technology Review – Blocking Former Sex Offenders from Online Social Networks: Is this a Violation of Free Speech?”

Isiah Carey’s Insite has details on the original crimes in MYSPACE ARRESTS IN HOUSTON BY THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE!, all of which involved sexual assaults on young girls. It’s currently unclear whether or not any of these acts involved internet communications.

It should be noted that this is a new activity for both State and MySpace and is not without opportunity for error with serious repercussions. MySpace falsely labeled a woman as sex offender recounts the experience of Jessica Davis, a young woman mistakenly flagged as a sex offender when Sentinel, the company that built the database for MySpace, flagged her account as that of an actual sex offender with the same name and a date of birth two years and two days apart from hers. It raises the spectre of misidentification of innocent persons as sex offenders though it’s unclear that it would get as far as an arrest and the mistaken belief that a parolee had created a MySpace profile when in fact it was created by someone else. It’s unclear what the effect of prisoner profiles created by family and friends on behalf of inmates still incarcerated would be. See USA Today: Inmates go to court to seek right to use the Internet.

If I were MySpace I would be a little uncomfortable with the idea of the State associating any use of my product with recidivism among sex offenders. Judging from the nature of the message-spam I’ve been getting lately, I’m not sure there’s anyone left on Myspace who isn’t a sex offender.

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