WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday moved to buttress free speech rights in the digital age, striking down a North Carolina law banning convicted sex offenders from Facebook and other social media services that play a vital role in modern life.
The court, in an 8-0 ruling, handed a victory to Lester Packingham, a registered sex offender due to a statutory rape conviction who had challenged the law as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
“This case is one of the first this court has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet. As a result, the court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court.
The North Carolina law, enacted in 2008, made it a felony for people on the state’s sex offender registry to use online services that can lead to social interactions with minors.
The case forced the justices to weigh free speech rights against a state’s interest in protecting its citizens, specifically from sexual abuse of minors.
The North Carolina law banned the use of leading social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter among others. Opponents had raised concerns that the measure could be interpreted as covering other online activity in which users must create profiles and can interact with other users. That even could include certain news websites.