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US: The Internet faces a free-speech test.

November 19, 2002

By Declan McCullagh

The Supreme Court hears challenges to a pair of sex-offender laws and enters a debate that could set new rules for access to online information.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear challenges to a pair of state laws that require sex offenders to register personal facts in publicly accessible databases, in a legal showdown that could set new rules for access to information in the digital age.

The high court will seek to decide whether so-called Megan's laws in Alaska and Connecticut strike the correct balance between shielding a community from criminals and preserving the rights of criminal defendants who have completed their punishments. In addition, some court watchers say the justices may weigh the Internet's role in disseminating public information.

Many legal experts say any ruling in the Megan's law cases is likely to be narrowly tailored toward the issue. Still, privacy and free-speech proponents are closely watching the cases, believing they could offer some guidelines about online court records in general. Among the concerned parties are some media groups, which worry about the adverse effects on online journalism from a ruling saying that the publication of factual information online is somehow unconstitutional.

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Source: 2002 BusinessWeek Online/