In the California code, all punishments are for the misuse of information or commission of a crime against the offender's privacy. The second provision granting more privacy to Massachusetts registrants is the restriction of information based on the risk posed by the offender. There is obviously no expectation of confidentiality in that arrangement. Access to Sex Offender Registry Information One of the simplest ways to ensure a person's privacy is to limit the dissemination of his or her personal information. In those cases where a request was made relative to a specific geographic area, the home and work addresses of the offender may also be released. It can't be cured, but it can be controlled if the addict never lets himself forget he is an addict. Both of these acts, whether performed by law enforcement agencies or individual citizens, are more severe intrusions into an offender's privacy than simple identification.
Sex offender registry programs vary in how and to whom they provide information, and thus vary in the level of confidentiality they afford. There are, however, a few key differences that tip the scales in favor of privacy for Massachusetts' offenders versus those in California. Although both states use a mostly request driven access scheme, they do use broadcast notification to alert the public to the presence of more dangerous offenders. California and Massachusetts use access mechanisms that are primarily request driven. Information contained in the sex offender report shall not be used to commit any crimes against any sex offender or to engage in illegal discrimination or harassment of an offender. It is also interesting to note that Massachusetts laws provide explicit confidentiality protection for the personal identification information provided by people requesting information from the sex offender registry. Conclusions Based on the information presented in this comparison, it appears as though the confidentiality provisions given to registered sex offenders in California and Massachusetts are quite similar. Also, by requiring requesters to provide personal information about themselves and their motivations, lawmakers hope to protect registrants from unwarranted invasions of privacy. California's information, on the other hand, appears to go beyond simple identification. Here the act specifically discusses the harm that can come from the release of criminal history information, and the special confidentiality provisions that should be made to protect offenders from that harm. In Massachusetts, law enforcement is required to notify community organizations and neighbors whenever moderate or high risk offenders enter the area. As these laws mature and some evidence is gathered about the effectiveness of sex offender registries, we can only hope that the best course of action will become clear. There is obviously no expectation of confidentiality in that arrangement. The new law increasing public access to sex offenders' names have that effect. Access to Sex Offender Registry Information One of the simplest ways to ensure a person's privacy is to limit the dissemination of his or her personal information. Commission of a felony using registry information is itself a felony, punishable by an additional 5 years added to the prison term to which the felon is sentenced. These levels form a three tiered classification scheme with the following guidelines: It can't be cured, but it can be controlled if the addict never lets himself forget he is an addict. In both states, only a subset of registry information is provided to the public. Knowing this, one might expect California's confidentiality provisions to be stricter than Massachusetts' in order to balance the increased threat posed by the personal nature of the information it gathers. We have seen some ways in which lawmakers have tried to protect the rights of released offenders and other ways that laws expose them to unusually high risk. The use of a classification scheme in Massachusetts to determine the need for broadcast notification is an attempt by legislators to be sensitive to the offender's right to confidentiality, as is California's restriction of both community notification and the CD-ROM to "serious" sex offenders. In Massachusetts, users of the sex offender registry are presented with the following warning message detailing the punishment for misuse of personal information: Limited information is provided over California's number and Massachusetts' CHSB because these mechanisms do not force requesters to produce any information about themselves. The second provision granting more privacy to Massachusetts registrants is the restriction of information based on the risk posed by the offender. Finally, it seems as though California's punishments for the misuse of information do not go as far to protect the rights of registered offenders before they have been violated. Is information broadcast or must it be requested?
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