Fact Check: People Are NOT Exempt From Carrying A Sex Offender Registry ID Card In Order To Protect Their Privacy

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: People Are NOT Exempt From Carrying A Sex Offender Registry ID Card In Order To Protect Their Privacy Apples≠Oranges

Are registered sex offenders exempt from carrying a card showing that they are listed on the sex offender registry -- because that would be an invasion of their privacy? No, that's not true: Many people who were convicted of sex offenses are required to carry some form of identification.

The Department of Justice maintains a National Sex Offender Public Website that is searchable by name or ZIP code and compiles information from the registries of many jurisdictions. This can include the person's name, age, photo, and home or work addresses. These registries are open for anyone to search. Some states have features on driver's licenses or ID cards that identify people who are listed on the sex offender registry. There is also a law that certain covered sex offenders, who were convicted of a sex offense against a minor, have a marking in their passport booklet saying, "THE BEARER WAS CONVICTED OF A SEX OFFENSE AGAINST A MINOR, AND IS A COVERED SEX OFFENDER PURSUANT TO 22 USC 212B(C)(1)." Since passport cards can not be marked this way, this requirement limits covered sex offenders to only carrying a passport booklet.

Several versions of this meme have been circulating on social media in the fall of 2021. One example is a Facebook post from October 3, 2021, captioned, "Bam!💥 💥" The text in the meme reads:

The next time somebody ask you for your vaccine card just remember that there are over 800,000 registered sex offenders in the United States that aren't required to carry a card because it invades their privacy

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Oct 6 19:29:38 2021 UTC)

A May 2021 review conducted by the home security review website safehome.org found 780,407 people listed on state sex offender registries. This number is broken down by state.

The question of which registered sex offenders are required to carry a marked ID depends on the laws of the state where they live, the offense they were convicted of and if they intend to travel internationally.

At least 11 states have some sort of marking or wording on state IDs and driver's licenses indicating a registered sex offender, according to a website that tracks sex-offense registration legislation. The marks may be obvious, or encoded in such a way as to only be noticeable to trained law enforcement. Several other states have restrictions such as requiring annual license/ID renewal for registered sex offenders.

One example of a state that does require ID/license marking is Delaware, where after being sentenced for a sex offense, a person must pay $5 for a replacement license that is marked with a Y.

(e)  If an applicant is required to register as a sex offender pursuant to § 4120 of Title 11 , as amended, for a felony conviction the sentencing court shall take possession of the driver's license and shall tender to the person being sentenced a temporary license, directing that the person report to the Division of Motor Vehicle for a replacement driver's license with the following code under restrictions:  Y indicating sex offender.  The person shall tender to the Division of Motor Vehicle a fee of $5.00 for the replacement license.  Upon a person being removed from the registration requirement, the Division of Motor Vehicle shall issue a license without the sex offender code printed upon the license at no charge.  The sentencing court shall forward to the Division all licenses that it receives, along with a copy of the sentencing order.

In the state of Alabama, the code requires adult sex offenders to always carry an ID, either a driver's license or another state-issued ID "bearing a designation that enables law enforcement officers to identify the licensee as a sex offender."

The National Sex Offender Public Website, established in 2005, has a free mobile app that allows users to search based on a radius around their mobile device for the addresses of people on the sex offender registry.

On February 8, 2016, Public Law 114-119, titled "International Megan's Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders," was passed by Congress. The law declared that a center would be established, known as the "Angel Watch Center" within the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. In section 240 of this law, the authority to use unique passport identifiers as well as to revoke passports that had been previously issued without such identifiers is given to the U.S. secretary of state. The purpose of this legislation was stated as:

To protect children and others from sexual abuse and exploitation, including sex trafficking and sex tourism, by providing advance notice of intended travel by registered sex offenders outside the United States to the government of the country of destination, requesting foreign governments to notify the United States when a known sex offender is seeking to enter the United States, and for other purposes.

Lead Stories reached out by email to the Angel Watch Center through the Department of Homeland Security. An automated reply on October 7, 2021, includes the text used to mark the passports of people covered by this requirement:

Additionally, per International Megan's Law, individuals who have been convicted of a covered sexual offense against a minor and are required to register as a sex offender in any United States jurisdiction are subject to the passport marking provision. The marking will be placed in the endorsement section of your passport book and will read as follows: THE BEARER WAS CONVICTED OF A SEX OFFENSE AGAINST A MINOR, AND IS A COVERED SEX OFFENDER PURSUANT TO 22 USC 212B(C)(1).

The U.S. Supreme Court is not going to consider the case Louisiana v. Hill in its October 2021 term. Tazin Hill had removed the orange lettering marking "sex offender" from a state-issued ID and was charged with altering an official identification card. Hill challenged whether it was constitutional for people convicted of sex offenses to have to carry an identification card with such a marking.

From the NBC News report:

Hill said the law violated the First Amendment by forcing him to convey the government's message. A state court judge agreed, finding that the sex-offender designation was not 'the least restrictive way to further the state's legitimate interest of notifying law enforcement' of a person's status, and suggesting that the state could find a more discreet alternative.

Louisiana's Supreme Court concurred with that conclusion, so the state's lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court. But the court denied review without comment Monday.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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