Views on the News: New Passports
According to a Nov. 2 New York Times article, Americans convicted of sex offenses against children will now have a passport to reflect their actions. Individuals in the Department of Homeland Security's database will be notified that their current passport will be revoked and replaced with the modified version. However, the Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws is against the decision, calling it a "slippery slope." Do you agree with this policy or is it violating individuals' rights?
Prof. Rajesh Sampath (Heller)
The question here is whether asking child sex offenders to have their passports marked to reflect their criminal past is a gross violation of individual freedom and autonomy. One can argue on substance that the “slippery slope” critique of the Homeland decision should not be invoked, because we are talking about a particular type of offense in this instance. And, in fact, making that offense explicit in travel documentation could protect the convicted felon from future harm in countries that may not tolerate knowing that a visitor with such an offense is present in their country. Further violations of their rights would then ensue. One can also argue against the concern, however, that deprivation of a present liberty for the sake of protecting against future deprivations leads to an infinite regress. Perhaps we need to weigh the assumptions of the Homeland decision against the backdrop of this ethical dilemma.
Rajesh Sampath (Heller) is an associate professor of the Philosophy of Justice, Rights, and Social Change and Associate Director of the Master's Program in Sustainable International Development
Amanda Kahn ’20
Having sex offenders use passports to identify their past offenses can be helpful in preventing sex trafficking and child exploitation. The Department of Homeland Security can use this passport identification to help prevent further crimes from occurring. Because this identifier does not prevent people from traveling out of the country, I don’t think that it violates individuals’ rights. There are already laws in place that prevent convicted felons who have committed certain crimes from having a passport at all, so this is a natural extension of those policies. However, the Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws does make a good point that this policy can be a slippery slope. Particularly in this political climate, this precedent could potentially be used to discriminate against other groups. The language of this law must be drafted carefully so this can be avoided, but if that is done, this law can be a success in preventing more heinous crimes from happening.
Amanda Kahn ’20 is majoring in Biology with a minor in History.
Ashley Loc ’20
I believe that this is a very reasonable undertaking, since here in America, we have many protective measures against child predation, but the same cannot be said for other countries. In rural China, I had seen an eight-year-old child purchase an entire case of Budweiser and lug it back by himself, so I can only imagine how little action would be taken if he were to be targeted sexually. Quite simply, there are so many struggles faced overseas, and without specially marked passports, I fear that sexual offenders could commit many crimes without the fear of even being acknowledged — nevertheless punished. And while an individual may not be bound by the same legislation elsewhere, the physical and emotional trauma that can be inflicted on a child should resonate with us regardless.
Ashley Loc ’20 is a double major in International and Global Studies and Health: Science, Society and Policy.
Alex Friedman ’19
You will never lose an election making life harder for people convicted of a serious crime, especially if it involves a child. I’m not convinced that it does much of anything to deter folks from committing a sex crime, nor to protect children from a known offender. A serious conversation needs to be had about when a person has paid their debt to society, both in this world of passports, but also the worlds of restricting voting for felons, prison conditions and job prospects for ex-cons. We need to decide, as a culture, when a person should be allowed full readmittance to our communities. If what we’re doing is creating a second tier of citizens, defined and derided for the rest of their lives by something they’ve done, I’m not sure we’re achieving any goal other than feeling better about ourselves. All of this assumes that our new punishments are affecting the people we want to affect. Minors who send nudes to other minors are liable, for example. I’m not sure the cost-benefit works out in society’s favor, nor do I think this is the criminal justice work needed currently.
Alex Friedman ’19 is a double major in Politics and Business.
Editor's note: A portion of Prof. Sampath's answer was edited for clarity.