The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that the New Hampshire sex offender reporting statute covers a new MySpace account. New Hampshire law requires NH sex offenders to notify law enforcement when they create new “online identifiers.”
Proponents of the law believe that it will remove an avenue for sex offenders to attract and abuse new victims. However, the law's critics contend that there is no actual evidence that the statute has done anything to prevent sexual abuse, and only curtail the constitutional rights of those that have paid their debt to society.
In New Hampshire v. White, the defendant, who is a registered sex offender, was charged with failing to register prior to using a MySpace account. The defendant was originally convicted in 1994 of aggravated felonious sex assault on a child and related felonies, and then convicted of indecent exposure and lewdness in 2005.
The trial court judge dismissed the indictment since the MySpace account was created using the defendant's real name and a previously registered email address.
The NH Supreme Court ruling reversed the trial court. The New Hampshire Supreme Court noted that MySpace is a “social networking” website, where users can create profiles and interact with other members. While accessing MySpace and browsing profiles does not require a membership or user profile, posting information does require both registration and a user profile.
As a result, the Supreme Court held that the requirement to make a profile triggers the obligation to report the account's creation to law enforcement.
The Supreme Court rejected the defendant's argument that using his previously registered email to create the profile should remove the requirement to register his MySpace profile. The Supreme Court noted that the New Hampshire sex offender statute separately references user profiles and email addresses, which shows the legislature's intent for separate registration.
The Supreme Court finally noted that the legislature clearly wanted the statute interpreted broadly, in order to allow law enforcement to fully monitor registered sex offenders.
Sex offenders in NH should certainly take particular note of this case. The New Hampshire Supreme Court sent a clear message that the rules of using the Internet are different for sex offenders than everyone else.
While the constitutionality of such statutes and registration requirements is questionable, it is the current law of the land and failure to obey could land you in hot water. It is simply best to assume that any Internet usage, and particularly the use of social networking sites, will be both heavily regulated and heavily monitored.
In addition, this case also shows the inherent ambiguity of the New Hampshire sex offender statute. The line between what constitutes new accounts related to profiles and add-on services is not clear at all. For example, with regard to third party photo sharing websites and services, there is no guidance regarding whether they require registration with law enforcement as a new “online identifier” or if they are considered part of the primary account.
With the confusing nature of the regulations regarding Internet and social networking usage for sex offenders, it is extremely important to discuss any questions or concerns with an experienced NH attorney. An experienced attorney will be able to answer any questions regarding the sex offender statute and help steer you clear of trouble with law enforcement.
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