The ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against a ballot proposition that aims to crack down on human sex trafficking.
The class-action federal lawsuit seeks to block a provision in Proposition 35 — approved by 81 percent of voters on Tuesday — that the two groups claim violates the U.S. Constitution.
“The ability to speak freely and even anonymously is crucial for free speech to remain free for all of us,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney at the ACLU-NC. “Stopping human trafficking is a worthy goal, but this portion of Prop 35 won’t get us there.”
The proposition requires the more than 73,000 registered sex offender in the state to turn every “Internet identifier” they have created over to police. Those Internet identifiers likely include email addresses, screen names for instant messaging and chat rooms, and user names for message boards and blog comments. Registered sex offenders must report any new Internet identifier within 24 hours of setting it up, or face up to a year in prison.
The ACLU and EFF contend that the provision is vague and overly broad, creating an unconstitutional burden on free speech. In their lawsuit, they argue that the proposition requires registered sex offenders to identify themselves to the government for online activities that have no relationship to criminality, such as posting a comment on a political blog.
“Requiring people to give up their right to speak freely and anonymously about civic matters is unconstitutional, and restrictions like this damage robust discussion and debate on important and controversial topics,” said EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury. “When the government starts gathering online profiles for one class of people, we all need to worry about the precedent it sets.”