Wilson signs Net sex predator law

Using the Internet or email to intentionally seduce or arouse a known minor now is a crime in California.

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Using the Internet or email to intentionally seduce or arouse a known minor now is a crime in California.

Gov. Pete Wilson signed Republican state Rep.Steve Kuykendall's bill yesterday, which is similar to current laws in Illinois and North Carolina.

The adopted provision updates an existing law regarding the telephone and other mediums. The new law states the following: "Every person who, with knowledge that a person is a minor, knowingly distributes, sends, causes to be sent, exhibits, or offers to distribute or exhibit by electronic mail, the Internet, or a commercial online service any harmful matter to a minor--with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust or passions or sexual desires of that person or of a minor, and with the intent, or for the purpose of seducing a minor--is guilty of a public offense and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison or in a county jail."

Wilson said the bill was designed to stop sexual predators from using the medium to lure young victims. "Pedophiles have used the unfettered access of the Internet to wage war on our children," the governor said in a statement. "This bill gives law enforcement and prosecutors a powerful weapon to use against sexual predators who prowl for victims online."

As with the Communications Decency Act, which made it a crime to send or show indecent material to known minors using the Net, some who fought the federal law say the California law also has terms that could be deemed constitutionally vague.

"One of the main deficiencies of the CDA was that the courts found that it is impossible to verify the age of all potential recipients of communications on the Net," said David Sobel, an attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"The 'knowledge' element of the California law is also problematic. I could see people being prosecuted for messages posted in newsgroups, chat rooms, or on Web pages," he added. "Sending material to 'arouse' or 'appeal' to a minor is also vague in definition. There is an issue of whether an 18-year-old would be convicted for communicating [as defined by the law] with a younger boyfriend or girlfriend."

The California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union opposed an earlier version of the bill that made it a crime to seduce a minor online, but today the civil liberties group said it doesn't object to the legislation's final language.

"We raised objections when the bill was introduced because it applied to people who did not have actual knowledge that the person was a minor," said Francisco Lobaco, the legislative director for the ACLU in California.

"As enacted, [law enforcement] would have to prove that the recipient was under the age of 18, that the accused knew that person was a minor and that the material sent was harmful and intended to seduce that minor," he noted.

In addition, when the national ACLU office and American Library Association sued to overturn a CDA-like law in New York, they did not challenge a section of the law that prohibited using the Net to lure minors. However, in June, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ruled that the entire law was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the Constitution's interstate commerce clause, which forbids one state from regulating another state's commercial activity.