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You Can’t Take That (Internet) Away From Me

January 24, 2019

US Second Circuit Court of Appeals finds total internet ban as part of supervised release conditions “excessive” and unconstitutional

In United States v. Eaglin, Eaglin was a convicted sex offender who had been convicted several times for breaching conditions attached to his release, primarily those relating to registering as a sex offender when he relocated. Because he had, in the past, used internet-enabled devices to look for sexual partners and view pornography, the prosecution viewed these as risk factors and had convinced the District Court to impose a total ban on Eaglin using the internet or viewing legal adult pornography. Eaglin successfully appealed these conditions, the Court of Appeal beginning the substance of its reasons by describing them as “unusual and severe.” It noted that the US Supreme Court had recently “forcefully identified” internet access as a constitutional right, on the basis that deprivation of internet access prevented legitimate exercise of freedom of expression rights. The total ban proposed was obviously excessive since it prevented him from using email, blogging, keeping track of the events of the day, or looking for work—the latter not interacting well with the accompanying condition that he remain employed. The Court remarked:

Today, as we observed above, access to the Internet is essential to reintegrating supervisees into everyday life, as it provides avenues for seeking employment, banking, accessing government resources, reading about current events and educating oneself.

Nor was the ban logically connected to his relevant convictions, which were for failure to register as a sex offender; none of his previous crimes had involved internet use. Even monitoring of internet usage would be more tailored to the circumstances of the case and less restrictive than the total ban. Similar findings were made regarding the ban on pornography. The Court concluded:

…the special conditions of supervised release banning access to the Internet and to adult pornography are substantively unreasonable in the circumstances presented here because neither is reasonably related to the relevant sentencing factors and both involve a greater deprivation of liberty than is reasonably necessary to implement the statutory purposes of sentencing.

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