Free Speech Press Release

08.04.11

Veto of Social Media Ordinance Is Right Decision for Cleveland, Says ACLU

Proposed Law Was Unconstitutional and Unenforceable

CLEVELAND – Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has vetoed legislation passed by city council that would have criminalized the use of social media. After the ordinance was passed, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio expressed concern over the constitutionality of the law, particularly its effect on residents’ free speech.

“Mayor Jackson made a wise decision by vetoing this legislation,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James L. Hardiman. “Public safety is of the utmost importance, but this law was so poorly conceived and vaguely worded that it would have done little to protect people, and would have criminalized those who were innocently exercising their First Amendment rights.”

The ordinance passed city council on July 20, 2011 and prohibited the use of social media that may lead to certain illegal activities. The law did not clarify what technology ualifies as social media, nor did it define what type of postings may have been considered illegal.

The legislation also did not address how police were to determine if social media was used, who used it, and to what extent. In 2009, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in State v. Antwuan Smith that law enforcement must have a warrant to search the contents of a cell phone or other similar electronic devices. Social networking accounts that have privacy settings enacted may also not be subject to search without a warrant.

“This would have been a tremendous waste of police resources at a time when we need law enforcement preventing real crime on our streets,” added Hardiman. ”If police have any chance at all to make our communities safer, they need to focus on enforcing the laws we already have, patrolling neighborhoods, and forging relationships with residents.”

“City council should be addressing the serious problems that Cleveland faces, but the use of social media is not one of them,” Hardiman concluded. “Focusing on technology misses the root causes of crime, such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of resources. If officials wish to make our streets safer, they must begin by addressing the real problems in Cleveland’s neighborhoods.”