In March of 2013, a new law will be implemented in the state of California that ensures that every time a sex offender creates an online profile he or she has to disclose this information to local law enforcement within 24 hours. While some may cheer that Proposition 35, also known as the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act Initiative, is a step forward to curb the impunity of sex offenders on the web, many have failed to consider the implications that a law like this could have for non-sex offenders.
As an article on this new law rightly pointed out, Proposition 35 will create a situation in which a select group of people will have their online anonymity prohibited and will be forced to publicly connect their online identity with their real life one. Given the uproar recently about Facebook’s privacy laws, people are obviously concerned about the fact that they are being forced to reveal their identities whenever they engage in any kind of online activity and that their personal details could be exposed without their knowledge.
While many may support the idea of online freedoms being revoked for those who have committed a heinous crime, it leaves one wondering whether it is only a matter of time before other social groups that law enforcement deem “threatening” are also forced to do the same. Where do we draw the line?
Recently, I wrote an article for PolicyMic about the important role the internet is playing in political mobilization and civic participation around the world. One of the main reasons that the internet has the heavy flow of traffic that it does, is because it is theoretically an anonymous medium through which people can engage in discussion about a variety of topics without having to reveal their identities.
Many times people avoid discussing politically charged issues face-to-face for fear of conflict. Removing the right to remain anonymous could adversely affect the way people use the internet for political or other forms of civic engagement.
A law like Proposition 35 not only highlights the ambiguity of online privacy laws, but puts a striking emphasis on the fact that our actual identities are increasingly connected to our online ones, whether we like it or not. While theoretically the viewing of child-porn may be curbed if online profiles are disclosed, isn’t it far more important to monitor the real life behaviour of sex offenders after they are released from prison than to ensure that they are buying the right type of online products from the right suppliers?
Somehow, I fail to understand how being aware of the Amazon user name of a sex-offender is making me, as a woman, any safer. Perhaps more energy should be put into therapy and rehabilitation than into enforcing a law that could create a precedent for violating the privacy of other citizens.