Today a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that challenges unconstitutional provisions in Proposition 35.
"The court recognized that Prop 35's online speech regulations are overly broad and violate the First Amendment," said Linda Lye, staff attorney at the ACLU-NC. "Stopping human trafficking is a worthy goal, but the portions of Prop 35 that limit online speech won't get us there. It's crucial that free speech remains free for all of us."
"We're glad the court recognized the chilling effects Prop. 35 has on online speech," said EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury. "This is an important step in ensuring that the First Amendment isn't the casualty of a well-intentioned initiative."
Proposition 35 is ballot measure passed by California voters in November 2012 that restricts the legal and constitutionally protected speech of all registered sex offenders in California. It requires anyone who is a registered sex offender - even people with decades-old, low-level offenses like misdemeanor indecent exposure and people whose offenses were not related to the Internet - to turn over a list of all their Internet identifiers and service providers to law enforcement. While the law is written very unclearly, this likely includes email addresses, usernames and other identifiers used for online political discussion groups, book and restaurant review sites, forums about medical conditions, and newspaper or blog comments.
Under the law, more than 73,000 Californians would have to immediately provide this information to law enforcement, and must report any new account or screen name within 24 hours of setting it up, even if the new screen name is their own real name. Violations can result in years in prison
The lawsuit charges that Proposition 35's online speech regulations are overly broad and violate the First Amendment, both because they prohibit anonymous speech and because the reporting requirements burden all sorts of online speech.