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SJC allows Internet posting of sex offender information
By Denise Lavoie, Associated Press, 8/3/2004 11:39

BOSTON (AP) The state's highest court ruled unanimously Tuesday that the state can post the names, addresses and photos of the most dangerous sex offenders on the Internet.

The Supreme Judicial Court said the public's right to know whether there are Level 3 sex offenders those classified as the most likely to re-offend in its midst, outweighs the offenders' right to privacy.

''We do not live in a utopian society,'' the court said in its ruling. ''By reason of the necessities of the situation, the registration information of level three sex offenders, lawfully determined to pose a high risk of danger to others, may be posted on the Internet to protect society.''

The court heard arguments in the case in June, more than a year after Gov. Mitt Romney said the state's Sex Offender Registry Board would begin posting the information online.

A Superior Court judge granted an injunction barring the state from posting the information after five Level 3 sex offenders sued the state, arguing that putting their names and photographs on the Internet would hurt their ability to find jobs and homes and to rehabilitate themselves. A different judge later dissolved the injunction.

The Legislature enacted a law in November allowing the information to be posted.

In their 7-0 decision, the justices of the SJC said they disagreed with public defenders for the Level 3 offenders, who argued that posting their information on the Internet would violated their liberty and privacy rights, and could subject them to harassment or even vigilantism.

''Contrary to the plaintiffs' contentions, widespread public access of level three sex offender information is an 'apt fit' to contemporary life,'' Justice John Greaney wrote on behalf of the entire court.

''Such a sex offender can be in Pittsfield today, Springfield tomorrow, Boston the day after, and elsewhere the next day. Offenders may themselves use the Internet to establish contact with future victims,'' he wrote. ''Internet dissemination of level three sex offender information effectively allows the communication of information to help protect victims and others in a practical way.''

Currently in Massachusetts, there are approximately 975 sex offenders classified as Level 3 by the state Sex Offender Registry Board out of a total of about 6,800 known sex offenders in the state.

Editor's Note: Denise Lavoie is a Boston-based reporter covering the courts and legal issues
 
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