30-Year Computer Ban for Sex Offender Overturned ; Just in time for the iPad launch, a federal appeals court Friday overturned a 30-year computer ban imposed on a sex offender caught in an online police sting.
Mark Wayne Russell, 50, was arrested in 2006 after traveling from his home in Columbia, Maryland to a location in Washington D.C. where he expected to meet a 13-year-old girl he’d sexually solicited in a chat room. The “girl” was actually an undercover cop, and Russell was ultimately sentenced to 46 months in prison and ordered not to “possess or use a computer for any reason” before the year 2039.
That inflexible ban on computer use is “substantively unreasonable” and “aggressively interferes with the goal of rehabilitation,” ruled the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
It’s the latest decision on an issue that has some, but not all, courts moving toward accepting the internet as a basic freedom that even convicts should not be permanently denied. In January, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia overturned a lifetime internet ban against a child porn offender, calling such bans “draconian” (.pdf) in terms of employment opportunities and “freedoms of speech and association.” But a few months earlier, the first unconditional lifetime internet ban to be appealed (.pdf) was upheld by the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Before his arrest, Russell had worked as an applied systems engineer at Johns Hopkins University for 10 years. “It is hard to imagine white collar work in 2010 not requiring access to computers, just as white collar work 100 years ago would almost invariably have required the use of pens and pencils,” wrote (.pdf) Judge Stephen Williams for the three-member panel.