The claim: Sex offenders don't have to carry cards because it 'violates their privacy'
President Joe Biden announced COVID-19 vaccine requirements Sept. 9 for federal workers and companies with more than 100 employees. That means millions of Americans may soon have to prove they've received the shot.
A widespread claim on social media attempts to make a point by comparing that potential requirement to those for sex offenders.
"There are 800,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S. and they don't carry a card because it 'violates their privacy,'" reads text in a Sept. 13 Instagram post. "Keep that in mind."
The post, published by an account called 1776 PRIDE, accumulated 5,400 likes within one day. Similar posts have racked up tens of thousands of interactions on Facebook and Instagram, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool.
"What's that about vaccine passports again?" reads text in a Sept. 10 Facebook post.
Those claims distort the facts on sex offenders, who are subject to a wide array of limitations. Sex offenders are indeed required to carry special identification in some states, and in the states where such laws have been overturned, it's been due to free speech concerns, not privacy.
"There are some states that have those laws, and some of those laws have been struck down for violating people's free speech rights," Tamara Rice Lave, a law professor at the University of Miami, told USA TODAY.
USA TODAY reached out to 1776 PRIDE for comment.
Some states mandate special IDs for sex offenders
"The claim refers to 'registered sex offenders,'" Michael O'Hear, a law professor at Marquette University, said in an email. "If registered, a sex offender’s personal identifying information is normally made available online to the general public."
That personal information includes a sex offender's address, their physical characteristics, what car they drive and the nature of their crime. Offenders are "required to update their registration in each jurisdiction they reside, are employed, or attend school," according to the Justice Department.
In addition to federal registration and notification requirements, some states also mandate a special designation on sex offenders' IDs. Kansas, for example, requires convicted sex offenders to get an ID that says "registered offender."
At least eight other states have similar laws on the books.
Oklahoma and Mississippi both require variations of the term "sex offender" on IDs, while Delaware simply puts a "Y" on them. Meanwhile, Florida requires those convicted of certain felony sex crimes to have "sexual predator" spelled out on their IDs. Others must have an ID that includes “943.0435, F.S.” – the state statute dealing with sex offender registration.
— Brittney Donovan (@FOX5Brittney) July 25, 2017
"So if you hand your driver's license or state ID over to a police officer, they would be able to tell immediately whether you're a registered sex offender," Charles Ewing, a law professor at the University of Buffalo, told USA TODAY.
Some state laws face First Amendment challenges
Courts have challenged some state laws requiring registered sex offenders to have special IDs. Those rulings have hinged on First Amendment issues.
"There is only limited case law on the issue, which has been framed not as 'privacy' but as an instance of the government compelling speech by a citizen," Wayne Logan, a law professor at Florida State University, said in an email.
In 2019, a federal judge in Alabama invalidated a law requiring those convicted of certain sex crimes to carry licenses emblazoned with "criminal sex offender" in red, bold letters. The state argued the law protected the public, but U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins wrote in his opinion that the law "unnecessarily compels speech" and was not "the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling state interest."
"The court held that a less intrusive method could be used to achieve the governmental goal of informing police of a registrant status," Logan said. "It could, for instance, as (Delaware) does, use a single letter – 'Y' – that police would recognize as denoting status. So, the court did not condemn the policy of identification in principle."
In October, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued a similar ruling, striking down a law that mandated IDs with "sex offender" printed in orange, capital letters. Similar to the Alabama case, the court wrote in its opinion that the requirement was "compelled speech" that violated the First Amendment.
"While the state certainly has a compelling interest in protecting the public and enabling law enforcement to identify a person as a sex offender, Louisiana has not adopted the least restrictive means of doing so," Associate Justice James Genovese wrote for the majority.
Louisiana officials have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear that case. Other judges around the country have rejected challenges to similar restrictions, such as notations on passports and putting signs in front of the homes of registered sex offenders on Halloween.
Still, experts told USA TODAY it's misleading to say those kinds of ID requirements have been challenged for violating privacy. Lave said registered sex offenders don't usually make that argument, and much of their personal information is already publicly available.
"Basically, registered sex offenders have no privacy," Ewing said.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that sex offenders don't have to carry cards because it "violates their privacy." Some states do require those convicted of certain sex crimes to carry special driver's licenses or state-issued IDs. Courts have challenged a couple of those laws, but the rulings were based on First Amendment violations – not privacy concerns. Sex offenders surrender their privacy on a wide range of fronts as their names, pictures, address are other information are posted on public registries.
Our fact-check sources:
Charles Ewing, Sept. 14, Phone interview with USA TODAY
Michael O'Hear, Sept. 14, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Wayne Logan, Sept. 14, Email exchange with USA TODAY
CrowdTangle, accessed Sept. 14
Florida Legislature, accessed Sept. 14, The 2021 Florida Statutes
Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, accessed Sept. 14, Florida’s NEW Driver License and ID Card
U.S. Department of Justice, accessed Sept. 14, SEX OFFENDER REGISTRATION AND NOTIFICATION ACT (SORNA)
LawServer, accessed Sept. 14, Tennessee Code 55-50-353 – Sexual, violent sexual, violent juvenile sexual offender identification
Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Dec. 6, 2019, Sex Offender Registration
Mississippi Department of Public Safety, accessed Sept. 14, Mississippi SOR FAQs
The New York Times, June 14, Special IDs for Sex Offenders: Safety Measures or Scarlet Letters?
Tamara Rice Lave, Sept. 14, Phone interview with USA TODAY
WJXT-TV, Nov. 17, 2014, Sexual predator, offender: What's the difference?
U.S. Government Accountability Office, January 2008, CONVICTED SEX OFFENDERS: Factors That Could Affect the Successful Implementation of Driver’s License-Related Processes to Encourage Registration and Enhance Monitoring
Kansas Bureau of Investigation, accessed Sept. 14, Sex Offender Registration Brochure
Associated Press, Oct. 20, Court Strikes Louisiana's 'Sex Offender' ID Requirement
Louisiana Supreme Court, Oct. 20, 2020, STATE OF LOUISIANA VERSUS TAZIN ARDELL HILL
Montgomery Advertiser, Feb. 14, 2019, Judge rules parts of Alabama sex offender statute unconstitutional
Casetext, Feb. 11, 2019, Doe v. Marshall
Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles, accessed Sept. 15, Drivers License/Identification Cards
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Sex offenders in some states must have special IDs