A recent case argued before the United States Supreme Court, Packingham v. North Carolina, may shake up how the government can regulate the internet activity. The petition involves a First Amendment challenge to a North Carolina law that imposes criminal penalties to registered sex offenders who visit “social media sites,” such as Facebook or Youtube, where users can communicate or exchange information with minors. The case arises from a sex-offender who was prosecuted for posting the phrase “God is Good!” on Facebook to celebrate the dismissal of a traffic ticket.
The Supreme Court heard oral argument on the issue on Monday. While the Court has yet to issue an opinion, it appears from the Justices’ questions that it may strike down the statute. Justice Kennedy, considered a decisive swing-vote on the Court, invited the comparison between internet and a public square. Others opined on the increasingly prevalent role these sites play in civic engagement; Justice Kagan in particular noted that a sex-offender would not be able to go to the President’s Twitter account to find out what he was saying that day.
The court’s opinion, once it is rendered, could have reverberations that reach farther than just sex-offenders. Courts often impose internet restriction as a condition of release for those convicted to a wide-array of crimes. Depending on how the Court words its opinion, such restrictions may also be considered an infringement on free speech.