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New York Ends Blanket Internet and Social Media Bans for People Convicted of Sex Offenses

Settlement Secures First Amendment Protections for People on Parole, Affirms Access to the Internet and Social Media as Essential to Free Speech

NEW YORK – Today the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York approved a settlement in Jones v. Stanford, a case brought by The New York Civil Liberties Union, Rutgers Law School Constitutional Rights Clinic, and Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York to end New York’s practice  of indiscriminately banning internet and social media access for people on parole required to register as sex offenders. The settlement expands upon a 2020 preliminary injunction in this case prohibiting the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and the Board of Parole from enforcing its social media ban.

“This is a crucial settlement that underscores the reality that in the 21st Century the internet and social media are prerequisites for speech and participation in society,” said Daniel Lambright, senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “With this settlement in place, people convicted of sex offenses that did not involve the use of internet or social media will no longer be banished en masse from an essential resource that helps them reintegrate into society by staying in touch with family, searching for jobs and housing, and reading the news.”

The settlement ends DOCCS’ and the Board of Parole’s practice of imposing blanket internet and social media restrictions on people convicted of sex offenses that did not utilize the internet or social media. Moving forward, social media and internet restrictions will be limited to circumstances where there are legitimate and particularized concerns about a person’s likelihood of sexually reoffending by using the internet or social media or where restrictions are deemed necessary to ensure compliance with a specific goal of rehabilitation. DOCCS and the Board of Parole will also be required to report changes to their review system and regularly release information on the implementation of these changes to the counsel in the case.

“By ensuring that parole conditions about internet and social media access are appropriately tied to risk, this settlement both protects the constitutional rights of people on parole and supports their successful reentry,” said Alexis Karteron, Director of the Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic.

The original social media restriction, e-STOP, was spearheaded by former Governor Andrew Cuomo while he was Attorney General in 2008, targeting social media platforms like MySpace, AIM, and Facebook in its early days. Since that time, the scale and use of social media has exponentially expanded. e-STOP’s broad definition of social media, which includes many websites that allow users to simply create profiles and comment on products, read the news, or engage with politicians, now prevents people from using internet platforms that pose no realistic risk of facilitating sex offenses.

“Since 2006, New York’s Penal Law has identified the goal of successfully reintegrating formerly incarcerated individuals into society as one of the key pillars of New York’s system of justice,” said Karen Murtagh, Executive Director of Prisoners Legal Services of New York. “This settlement responsibly furthers that goal by acknowledging the indispensability of internet usage for education, self-improvement and economic advancement in modern times.”

The case was originally brought in the Eastern District in March 2020, and in September 2020 Judge Raymond Dearie issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs, blocking the state from imposing blanket social media restrictions on people convicted of sex offenses who did not utilize the internet.

You can find case materials here.

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