..... Today, I am pleased to announce that by the end of this year, the Department will launch a nationwide, Internet-based, searchable National Sex Offender Registry.
Names like Jessica Lunsford and Megan Kanka highlight the importance of this new technology. Their smiles -- wiped away forever by sex offenders -- are a constant reminder that we must keep parents and communities informed and engaged.
The National Sex Offender Registry will provide one-stop access to registries from the 48 states that have them. And we will work with the two remaining states, to be sure that everyone gets on board with this important public notification system. With this technology, every citizen and law enforcement officer will be able to search the latest information for the identity and location of known sex offenders.
Our goal is to have 20 states live and available for public searches within 60 days -- and the rest online this fall.
And earlier this week, I signed a final rule that will help the Department prevent children from being exploited in pornographic materials. The rule requires producers of pornography to verify that their performers are not minors, and establishes a detailed Federal inspection system to make sure producers are keeping appropriate records -- and keeping children out of pornographic materials.
By clarifying -- and strengthening -- the rules regarding child pornography, we're taking steps to protect the most vulnerable among us from sexual exploitation.
Another priority I have outlined is the aggressive and effective prosecution of those who create, sell, and distribute obscenity. I am strongly committed to ensuring the right of free speech. But the Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment does not protect obscene materials.
This month we took action on this priority when we announced the formation of an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force. This Task Force will be staffed with our best and brightest: Prosecutors with expertise not only in obscenity prosecutions, but also in racketeering, money laundering, and computer crimes....
My goodness. What an interesting bundle of bad ideas, all collected into one speech.
Leaving aside for the moment the desirability of a public sex offender registray, a national registry would certainly be an intriguing idea ... if the states collected and reported data the same way. Some states' registries report all sex offenses as equal -- that is, they tell you that a person has offended without telling you what exactly it is that they did. Thus, they lump together the 19-year-old who had sex with the two-days-from-legal-consent sixteen-year-old with the person who sexually assaulted several children. Taking the information from the registries, rather than from the criminal records themselves, will yield a terribly unspecific database. (There's also the related technical issue of pulling the information from the various database systems used by the 48 states mentioned.)
Substantively, there is, of course, the much thrashed out issue of why sex offenders are singled out quite this way from other offenders. Why wouldn't we either maintain a comprehensive public registry of all criminals, or none? Why are sex offenders singled out for this sort of punishment after the legal term of their imprisonment has been completed? Somehow, we've made the judgement as a society that we should perpetually track and punish sex offenders ... but murderers can be let off. Granted, in part this is because serial sex offenses are possible in a way that serial murders are not; if you're a serial murderer who gets caught, at the very least you'll be imprisoned for life, and more likely executed (eventually). Nonetheless, depending on how it's done, it's possible in many states to kill more than one person, eventually get out of jail and off probation. With most sex offender registries, once you're in them, you can't get out again, even if you never re-offend.
The rule regarding child pornography is also interesting. As I understand it, alone among our laws, it turns the normal rules on their heads. No longer are you considered innocent until proven guilty; in this case alone, you're considered guilty until proven innocent. (In fact, assuming that charges are eventually brought against someone under this rules change, I'd think it particularly vulnerable to a constitutional challenge.) It also leaves open the issue of what happens to a producer who is lied to, as were several back during the Traci Lords and Jeff Browning scandals. None of the producers at the time were charged, as they had complied with the laws as they then stood; it's unclear whether or not they would be seen as legally culpable today under this rules change.
The Obscenity Prosecution Task Force will be interesting to see in action ... in a sort of appalling way. Since obscenity has never anywhere been defined in this country, one wonders what, exactly, the government will chose to prosecute. Chances are that whoever they take to trial will eventually either be found not guilty -- because the "community standards" rule will be profoundly unclear, given that as a country, we have no such standard -- or their sentences will eventually be overturned for the same reason. On its face, the task force would seem to exist purely to harrass the pornography industry.
Yes, the next four years ought to be interesting, indeed.Posted by iain at May 31, 2005 11:32 AM