Court: 15-year-old molester has a right to Facebook, Twitter

San Diego appeals court says the First Amendment means a teen convicted of molesting a toddler can't be kept off social media. But he will lose access to encryption, hacking and... steganography.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read

A 15-year-old juvenile delinquent can't be completely prohibited from using Facebook, Twitter, or other social-media sites, a California state appeals court says.

The San Diego court ruled that a teenage boy who molested a toddler and grabbed and detained a teenage girl has a First Amendment right to use social media and chat rooms -- in part, the justices said, because his offenses didn't involve the Internet.

Those restrictions "are not tailored to Andre's convictions for violating another's personal liberty, willfully annoying and molesting another, unlawful use of force, and lewd and lascivious conduct, or the juvenile court's dual goals of rehabilitation and public safety," wrote Justice Terry O'Rourke. (Because Andre is a minor, the court did not include his last name. Nor would CNET disclose it if the court had.)

O'Rourke did, however, agree that a separate condition of Andre's probation that bars him from visiting porn Web sites or using "any encryption, hacking, cracking, keystroke monitoring, security testing, or steganography" tools was reasonable.

Justice Terry O'Rourke
Justice Terry O'Rourke

That's because probation officers need to be able to "verify Andre's compliance" with the no-porn-on-his-computer prohibition, he said.

Even a few years ago, broad restrictions on Internet use might have been viewed as acceptable. But as modern life has moved increasingly online, even for teenagers, courts have become more reluctant to impose Draconian rules.

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has warned, for instance, that: "Such a ban renders modern life -- in which, for example, the government strongly encourages taxpayers to file their returns electronically, where more and more commerce is conducted online, and where vast amounts of government information are communicated via Web site -- exceptionally difficult."

Andre was arrested after a 13-year-old student in middle school complained that he had forcibly held her arms behind her back while grinding his pelvis against her hip for about 30 seconds. A second complaint involved criminal touching of a 2-and-a-half-year-old girl's genitalia. He was sentenced to supervised probation.