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US Supreme Court Finds Broad Restrictions on Access to Social Media Sites Unconstitutional

Alan Butler


Packingham v North Carolina, 582 US, 137 S Ct 1730 (2017)
The North Carolina statute impermissibly restricts lawful speech in violation of the First Amendment. The First Amendment of the US Constitution ensures that ‘all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more.’ That includes access to the Internet and, in particular, social media platforms. Even assuming the North Carolina statute is content neutral, the law cannot be upheld because it is not ‘narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.’ Therefore, even if the First Amendment permits a State to enact specific, narrowly-tailored laws to prohibit a sex offender from engaging in conduct that often presages a sexual crime, the North Carolina law must be invalidated because it prohibits all access by these individuals to social media platforms. The State has not met its burden to show that this sweeping law is necessary or legitimate to serve its purpose of keeping convicted sex offenders away from vulnerable victims.
NC Gen Stat Ann §§ 14-202.5(a), (e) (2015)

Alan Butler, Senior Counsel, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). For correspondence <>.


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