International Megan’s Law: The Epitome of American Arrogance
By: Derek W. Logue of Once Fallen
January 31, 2016, Updated October 30, 2017


International Megan’s Law (IML) has been languishing in legislation since 2008, but almost eight years later, IML passed in early 2016. For years, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ 4th Dist.) has been pushing this bill under the guise of preventing “child sex tourism” or “sex trafficking.” While the laws are allegedly targeting human trafficking, the real goal of International Megan’s Law is compelling other nations to adopt a public registry. International Megan’s Law is yet another attempt at imposing the American way of life on other nations.

International Megan’s Law is also an assault on the right to travel while forced to register as a sex offender. International Megan’s Law had proposed various forms of passport restrictions on registrants, including limiting passports to a year or proposing distinctive marks of infamy on registrant passports. Under International Megan’s Law, notice of travel must be made 21 days in advance and complete itineraries down to the specific flight info must be given to the registry office; this info is forwarded to the FBI, then to INTERPOL, who notifies the receiving country that a “sex offender” is traveling to their country. To further this end, IML will create a new bureaucratic office, the “Angel Watch Center” (AWC). This law is blatantly a violation of the right to travel and is intended to prevent registered citizens from leaving the US.


New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith has made “human trafficking” a primary focus. According to his congressional website, he has introduced a number of bills to tackle the issue of human trafficking as far back as 1999 (though only one original act, the “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000,” was signed into law). [1]  This 2000 Act covered “severe punishment–including up to life imprisonment” for human traffickers and aid for alleged sex trafficking victims; the Act also contained the Violence Against Women Act of 2000, expanded Megan’s Law to ensure notification to the college/ university community when a registered sex offender is enrolled or employed at that institution, as well as “Aimee’s Law,” which encourages states to keep murderers and sex offenders behind bars longer, holding the state financially accountable if they fail to do so. [2]  This Act has been re-authorized three times, each time expanding the scope of operations.

International Megan’s Law of 2008 (H.R. 5722, 110th) was first introduced on April 8, 2008. The original bill had three main provisions, the first being a requirement that registrants intending to travel gave a 21 day notice to their local registry office; the second provision required the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a program to notify foreign countries of international travel; the third provision would have denied entry into the US of anyone convicted of a sex crime in a foreign court. Failure to register international travel was punishable by up to 10 years in prison. This version of IML never left committee.[3]

International Megan’s Law of 2009 (H.R. 1623, 111th) was introduced on March 9, 2009, and greatly expanded the provisions created in the 2008 version. This version of IML expanded the required registrant travel information—name, date of birth, social security number, passport or passport card number and date and place of issuance, basis of criminal conviction, travel itinerary and purpose of the trip, travel companions, and contact information prior to departure and during travel. It would have imposed registration on any sex offender who is a US citizen or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States who resides in a foreign country for more than 21 consecutive days, or who resides in a foreign country for more than 30 days within a 6-month period, to register and keep such registration current at a US diplomatic or consular mission in the residing country. Information gathered while living abroad would have included employer, residence, time registrant will leave that country, vehicle info, and school info. The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would have been tasked for determining which registrants are considered “High Risk” under this Act (apparently, under this version, only “High Risk” registrants were to fall under the provisions of IML). An “International Sex Offender Travel Center” was to be established and manned by representatives from ICE, DHS, SMART, FBI, and USMS, INTERPOL, and even the US Coast Guard among other bureaus. Passports would have been valid for only one year, and rescind passports from any US traveler convicted in a foreign court for a sex offense. This bill also never left committee. [4]  

International Megan’s Law of 2010 (H.R. 5138, 111th) was introduced on April 26, 2010 and passed the House on July 27, 2010, but did not pass the Senate. This bill changed the term “high risk sex offender” to “high interest registered sex offender,” increased the registration period from 21 days to 30 days advance notice, added a $25 fee for traveling abroad (payable to ICE), and added email addresses to the list of information collected by the registration office. The registrant would have received a travel notice that provided written proof the registrant has been properly registered before leaving the US. The US consulate would maintain a non-public registry of sex offenders living abroad. Also noteworthy (because it reinforces my theory that IML is an attempt to impose American values on the rest of the world) is that Congress demands “that the President should strongly encourage those foreign countries that have an age of consent to sexual activity below the age of 16 to raise the age of consent to sexual activity to at least the age of 16.” [5]  

International Megan’s Law of 2011 (H.R. 3253, 112th) was introduced Oct. 24, 2011 and died in committee. Under this version, a registrant living abroad would be required to register in person every six months at the designated diplomatic or consular mission where the registrant is residing. The establishment of a registration fee was given to the designated diplomatic or consular mission, though set fee was established, opting instead to allow the consulate to make their own “reasonable” registration fees. (ICE was no longer limited to a $25 fee, as Congress would have given them the power to create their own fees as well.) [6]

With H.R. 4573 (113th) came a new expanded title – “International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking.” This version of IML was introduced on May 6, 2014 and passed the House on May 20, 2014 but died in the Senate. The proposed “International Sex Offender Travel Center” was renamed the “Angel Watch Center (AWC),” which was to be controlled by ICE and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The US Marshals Service’s National Sex Offender Targeting Office would provide the AWC information on travel by child-sex offenders. The previous terms “high risk” and “high interest registered sex offender” were removed from the definitions and replaced with “child-sex offender.” [7]  Notably absent from this version of IML from previous versions is the lengthy registration requirements both at home and abroad. The reason for this change was because the SMART Office exercised ‘‘[t]he authority under 42 U.S.C. 16914(a)(7) to expand the range of required registration information * * * to provide that registrants must be required to inform their residence jurisdictions of intended travel outside of the United States at least 21 days in advance of such travel.’’ [8]  The one-year passport limit was also removed from the bill.

On January 22, 2015, IML was re-introduced yet again as H.R. 515 (114th), aka “International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders.” [9]  When the House passed HR 515 on January 26, 2015, it was essentially the same bill as the previous incarnation which failed to pass during the 113th Congress. On July 27, 2015, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL 7th Dist.) introduced S. 1867: “International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders.” The Senate Bill differs from the House Bill as it uses the term “covered sex offender” (anyone convicted of a sex crime involving a minor). However, S-1867 is especially bad because it introduced a provision to add a “unique identifier” to passport IDs of registered citizens, meaning “any visual designation affixed to a conspicuous location on the passport or passport card indicating that the individual is a covered sex offender.” In addition, the Senate bill also adds “Information relating to intended travel of the sex offender outside the United States, including any anticipated dates and places of departure, arrival, or return, carrier and flight numbers for air travel, destination country and address or other contact information therein, means and purpose of travel, and any other itinerary or other travel-related information required by the Attorney General” to the list of information to be disclosed by the registrant traveler. [10]  

Oddly, by the time HR 515 was reviewed by the Senate Committee to be presented to the full Senate on November 17, 2015, the entire text of HR 515 had been stricken and largely replaced with the provisions of S-1867 (with the exceptions of the ‘Findings” section, and with a few sentences revised). [11]  On December 17, 2015, the Senate passed their revisions to IML and sent it back to the House for approval. On February 1, 2016, the House approved the changes under a “suspension of the rules.” Within a week, it was on the desk of President Obama; on February 8, 2016, it was signed into law. The US State Department officially announced the “unique identifier” on October 30, 2017. The passports will read:

“The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212b(c)(l).”  Since endorsements cannot be printed on passport cards, covered sex offenders cannot be issued passport cards. [12]


The Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART) Office downplayed the concerns of those whose travel rights would be hindered, if not outright eradicated, by the registration requirements promoted by International Megan’s Law when it stated, “However, these supplemental guidelines recognize that there may be circumstances in which requiring 21 days advance notice would be unnecessary or inappropriate, and expressly allow jurisdictions to adopt policies accommodating such situations subject to approval by the SMART Office.” [13]  This statement, however, is very vague and confusing – the SMART Office states on one hand that it recognizes the 21 day advance notice originally proposed by IML and adopted by the SMART Office isn’t always feasible; on the other hand, states who create rules regarding this unique circumstances must have those rules approved by the SMART Office. The SMART Office fails to offer a single example to assist states adopt such rules.

The SMART Office also claims authority to modify information to be given before traveling internationally, claiming, “Congress in SORNA has authorized the Attorney General to augment or modify SORNA’s express requirements in certain areas, including authority to expand the range of required registration information and authority to create discretionary or mandatory exceptions to disclosure of such information.” [14]  If that is indeed true, adding new registration requirements to International Megan’s Law is unnecessary, and thus little more than a selling point.

The limitation of passports has become the most controversial point for International Megan’s Law. From 2009 to 2013, IML contained a provision which would have limited the passports of registered citizens to a single year, as opposed to 10 years for the average US Passport. While 22 U.S. Code § 217a states, “the Secretary of State may limit the validity of a passport to a period of less than ten years in an individual case or on a general basis pursuant to regulation,” [15]  the GAO reports, “Although federal law permits certain restrictions on the issuance of passports to individuals, the Secretary of State is not authorized to restrict the issuance of passports to individuals because they are listed in the NSOR. As with any other convicted felon, State lacks the authority to identify such status on these individuals’ passports. Federal law permits the Secretary of State to deny or revoke the issuance of passports only in certain circumstances, including, but not limited to, when the individual is subject to a criminal court order, condition of probation, or condition of parole, any of which forbids departure from the United States and the violation of which could result in the issuance of a federal warrant of arrest, including a warrant issued under the Federal Fugitive Felon Act; is over $2,500 delinquent in child support; is delinquent in certain State debts; has an outstanding felony warrant;  has an outstanding foreign felony warrant; is subject to an extradition request that has been presented to a foreign country; has been declared legally incompetent; used a passport or crossed an international border to commit an act based on which the individual was subsequently convicted of certain drug trafficking crimes, but only during the period the individual is imprisoned or on parole or supervised release; or used a passport or crossed an international border to commit an act based on which the individual was ubsequently convicted under the federal ‘sex tourism’ statute, but only during the period the individual is imprisoned or on parole or supervised release.” [16]  Had IML passed in 2013, a registrant would have had to pay $140 plus a $25 “Execution Fee” for a passport, or every year, or $1650 to keep a passport for 10 years. Since the State has not been granted authorization as of yet to make such wholesale restrictions, it can be assumed this rule led to the removal of the passport restriction provision.

Since the passport limit was removed, the Senate version of the 2015 International Megan’s Law added a scarier proposal—a “unique identifier” to passport IDs of registered citizens (i.e., a visual designation affixed to a conspicuous location on the passport or passport card indicating that the individual is a covered sex offender). This provision has proven so controversial, even the mass media has made the obvious comparisons between the IML “unique identifier” and the marks made by the Nazis on the passports of folks of Jewish descent. David Post of the Washington Post’s Volokh Conspiracy writes:

“I remember asking my dad, when he had been talking about the roundup of the Jews and the infamous ‘yellow star,’ a simple question that deeply puzzled my 7-year-old brain: How did the Germans know who to round up? How did they know who was, and who wasn’t, Jewish? My own family wasn’t observant in the least — we didn’t go to synagogue, or celebrate the Jewish holidays, I didn’t go to Hebrew School, etc.; so if they were rounding up all the Jews in Brooklyn, how would they know about us? And I vividly remember his reply: They knew it because in Germany, they recorded your religion on your birth certificate, and on all your other important government documents (ID card, passport, etc.). [I’m not sure that that was entirely accurate — but it does capture the substance of the matter***]. And, he reassured me, we — here in the United States — don’t allow that sort of thing. I was reminded of all that by a provision in a statute that recently sailed through the House and Senate: “International Megan’s Law” (IML for short), ostensibly designed to “prevent child exploitation and other sexual crimes through advanced notification of traveling sex offenders…It is, as far as I can determine, the first time in U.S. history that any such special designation will appear on the passports of any U.S. citizens, and I think it should send at least a small chill down all of our spines.” [17]  

Post pointed to the website from the US Holocaust Museum’s Timeline, posted on their official website:

“On October 5, 1938, the Reich Ministry of the Interior invalidates all German passports held by Jews. Jews must surrender their old passports, which will become valid only after the letter “J” has been stamped on them. The government required Jews to identify themselves in ways that would permanently separate them from the rest of the German population. In an August 1938 law, authorities decreed that by January 1, 1939, Jewish men and women bearing first names of “non-Jewish” origin had to add “Israel” and “Sara,” respectively, to their given names. All German Jews were obliged to carry identity cards that indicated their heritage, and, in the autumn of 1938, all Jewish passports were stamped with an identifying red letter “J”. As Nazi leaders quickened their war preparations, antisemitic legislation in Germany and Austria paved the way for more radical persecution of Jews.”[18]

Lenore Skenazy adds, “Oddly enough, that country won’t be alerted if a visitor has served time for, say, mugging old ladies. No one’s American passport will be stamped with ‘Drug Dealer’ or ‘Drunk Driver’ or even ‘First-Degree Murderer Who Used a Pitchfork’! The only people our government intends to brand are the people who committed a sex crime, did their time and are now free. They’re American citizens like the rest of us . . . except for the scarlet ‘SO.’ If there was any proof that branding the passports would actually cut down on sex trafficking, a heinous crime that makes my heart ache, maybe a rational argument could be made for it. But there isn’t.” [19]

Even if legislators are fine with the repugnant idea of placing marks of infamy on the passports of registered citizens, it should at least consider the possibility that some people could be mistakenly labeled as a sex offender on their passports. In 2013, a Florida man who was declared legally blind was mistakenly labeled as a sex offender on his state-issued Driver’s License. But as he visited banks, doctors’ offices and pharmacies, he noticed he was being treated rudely by fellow Floridians. It was not until he attempted to visit a military base that the man was informed his Driver’s License listed him as a sex offender. (It is a crime for a registered citizen to enter a military base, according to the news story.) The Duval County Tax Collector’s Office admitted to News4Jax this was not the first time this happened. The man described his ordeal as “humiliating” and “devastating.” [20]  

In 2015, a Florida woman’s state ID was mistakenly marked “Sexual Predator” in blue letters. In the days before discovering the mistake, she was detained by the police at Disney World and a hotel in Clermont. ohn Phillips, a Jacksonville attorney representing the woman, then suing the state, called the notation on his client’s license a “Scarlet Letter” law signed in 2007 by Gov. Charlie Crist. [21]  We can only imagine the damage caused to someone traveling internationally with a mark mistakenly placed on a passport!

Another possible consequence of the “unique identifier” provision is the potential impact on registered citizens living in a handful of states not currently compliant with the federal “Real ID” program. Currently, all domestic flights only require a state ID. However, if your state is not considered “Real ID compliant” by January 22, 2018, then you will be required to show a passport, even for domestic flights, unless that state has been granted an extension. ALL states must be Real ID compliant by October 1, 2020. [22]  

As International Megan’s Law continues to be tweaked, the law also has also broadened its scope from a limited number of “high risk” offenders to everyone convicted of a sex crime. The responsibility of determining risk would have been left to an agency created from a number of existing bureaucracies. States vastly differ on determining the severity of relatively petty offenses. Phillip Alpert is one such case—he was convicted at age 18 for “distributing child pornography” when he send a nude picture of his 16-year-old girlfriend to some family members and friends after they broke up. As noted by Danielle Viera in the Emory International Law Review, “the current laws in many states require people who urinate in public, teenagers who engage in consensual sex, and young children who expose themselves—individuals who have not committed violent offenses—to register as sex offenders. Subjective ‘high risk’ determinations coupled with overzealous domestic sex offender laws mean that young adults like Phillip Alpert could find themselves labeled high-risk sex offenders more easily than the drafters of House Bill 5138 may have intended. Upon learning only that Phillip Alpert, a registered sex offender, engaged in the distribution of child pornography, officials at the International Sex Offender Travel Center could conceivably consider him to be a danger to minors all over the world, when that is far from reality.” [23]

Also of concern is the impact of International Megan’s Law on those convicted of sex crimes as a juvenile. Viera argues, “Applying cookie-cutter registration laws to juveniles does not account for the unique characteristics of their offenses. It is widely accepted that children differ from adults mentally, physically, and emotionally; and thus, the juvenile justice system was created with a focus on rehabilitation. Because of the long-standing view that a child’s underdeveloped brain responds positively to treatment, rehabilitation ensures that children are not penalized in the same way as adults. Although House Bill 5138 did not include those offenders who were adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court, it still would have subjected many other juveniles to the same strict requirements as their adult counterparts…Juvenile offenders have “substantially lower recidivism rates” than adults and are less cognitively developed, making them arguably less culpable… a large majority of sex offenders know their victims personally, as seen in cases of child molestation, where the perpetrator and victim are often related. This phenomenon is even more prevalent when the offender is a juvenile…All of these factors make it manifestly unjust to penalize juvenile sex offenders under a one-size-fits-all rubric.” [24]

The National Reform Sex Offenders Law (NARSOL) group argues International Megan’s Law violates a number of constitutional safeguards, including the 1st (freedom of association) and 14th (Due process) Amendments, as well as the Ex Post Facto clause. “IML creates two classes of American citizens: those who may travel freely, and those who must notify authorities before leaving the country. They have a recognized right to travel freely without interference from their government. IML violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) by interfering with the free movement of citizens…It punishes registered citizens through loss of freedom of movement, after they have completed their court-ordered punishment. The majority of Registered Citizens have long since exited the criminal justice system and have lived years, even decades, in the community without re-offending…The AWA listing of conviction status in no way reflects a person’s actual re-offense risk ; however the Angel Watch Center (AWC) would proffer Registered Citizens’ federally protected information to foreign authorities with the clear implication of dangerousness with no opportunity to prove the innocent nature of their travel in advance. Thus, IML would violate due process rights of Registered Citizens traveling internationally.” [25] Interestingly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights is among the few
international treaties signed, ratified, and enforced by the USA. [26]

Sex Offender Solutions and Education Network (SOSEN) adds the argument that a person’s reputation is a liberty interest. “The United States Supreme Court has previously recognized that a person’s reputation is a protected liberty interest under the federal due process clause. Wisconsin v. Constantineau, 400 U.S. 433 (1971) (hereafter “Constantineau”); Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564 (1972) (hereafter “Roth”). In Constantineau, the State of Wisconsin authorized the posting of a notice prohibiting the sale or gift of liquor to any person who “‘by excessive drinking’ produces described conditions or exhibits specified traits, such as exposing himself or family ‘to want’ or becoming ‘dangerous to the peace’ of the community.” On appeal, the Constantineau Court recognized that “[i]t would be naive not to recognize that such ‘posting’ or characterization of an individual will expose him to public embarrassment and ridicule.” 400 U.S. at 436. The Court therefore held that a protectible liberty interest is implicated “[w]here a person’s good name, reputation, honor, or integrity is at stake because of what the government is doing to him [or her.]” Id. at 437, as well as the Hawaii Supreme Court decision in Hawaii vs. Bani. The acts of these government officials opened them and the agencies that they operate out of to million Dollar lawsuits under U.S.C. 1983 actions, as well as the possibility of them facing federal charges under Title 18, U.S.C., Section 241 Conspiracy Against Rights and Section 242 Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law.” [27]

The “unique identifiers” also force registrants to carry an offensive government message, violating the US Supreme Court’s decision in Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705 (1977). In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court held that New Hampshire could not constitutionally require citizens to display the state motto (“Live Free or Die”) upon their vehicle license plates. Chief Justice Burger, writing for the Majority, found that the statute in question effectively required individuals to “use their private property as a ‘mobile billboard’ for the State’s ideological message.” The Court held that the State’s interests in requiring the motto did not outweigh free speech principles under the First Amendment, including “the right of individuals to hold a point of view different from the majority and to refuse to foster … an idea they find morally objectionable.” The state’s interest in motor vehicle identification could be achieved by “less drastic means,” and its interest in fostering state pride was not viewpoint-neutral.

It is hard to claim that the provisions of International Megan’s Law (in particular, the two passport provisions) do not constitute a significant hindrance to the registrant’s right to travel, especially given the increased restrictions registered citizens have already experienced. According to a 2012 GAO report, Canada, Panama, and The Philippines topped the list of nations in terms of percent of registrants denied entry and total number of denials. Other countries that denied entry to at least one occasion were Costa Rica, South Korea, Brazil, Japan, Great Britain, Mexico, Thailand, and Jamaica [28]. Sri Lanka [29], The Phillipines [30], and Mexico [31].  As the fear of “sex trafficking” spreads, the number of nations expected to systematically deny entry to registered citizens will increase, which is precisely what the US wants.

Even with the increase of sex trafficking panic across the globe, the idea that the US will compel other countries to create and run American-style sex offender registries is downright arrogant. “Criminal law systems across the world vary in such a way that different countries may have different definitions regarding the same offense. Most countries use common criteria to define a sex offender but many do not have the term “sex offense” anywhere in their criminal codes. Sex offender registries differ from country to country as well. Some countries choose not to implement registries; others, such as Norway, use a national criminal registry that is not specific to sex offenses. In Thailand, sex is decriminalized, and although rape is considered a criminal offense, the law is rarely enforced. As recently as 2008, other countries, including Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia, have begun to debate introducing a sex offender registry. Complicating matters further, the age of consent ranges among nations from thirteen to eighteen, making it a crime to have sex with a sixteen-year-old in Ireland, where the age of sexual consent is seventeen, but not in the United Kingdom. The extensive variety that exists in foreign laws hinders the desired effect of a law like House Bill 5138.” [32]


New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith relied on fearmongering when he promoted International Megan’s Law before the House in January 2015. “It’s all about very good vigilance,” Smith said in an interview with “It’s secrecy that enables all of this. Secrecy is how these people exploit and, unfortunately, we’re seeing a growing amount of sex tourism. They hop on planes and go to places for a week or two and abuse little children… “Pedophiles from the U.S. can travel to those countries and pedophiles from those countries can come to the U.S. and abuse our children.” During a meeting with a Chris Smith asked a group of stop sex tourism activists from Thailand, “If we told you a convicted pedophile was coming to Bangkok, what would you do?” “We wouldn’t let them in,” the Thailand activists responded. “The idea behind this is to get Megan’s Law stirred up in countries around the world,” Smith said. [33]  

International Megan’s Law has been justified by a number of “findings” by Congress, but the findings are largely unrelated. In International Megan’s Law of 2011, Section 2, Findings and declaration of purposes, are a number of findings that compel individuals to associate people on the sex offender registry with sex tourism or sex trafficking. Congress “found” that Megan Kanka was killed by an unknown sex offender; Megan’s Law was passed in 1996; sexual exploitation of minors is a global phenomenon; it is estimated that 1.8 million children worldwide are exploited each year through prostitution and pornography; all children are adversely affected by being commercially sexually exploited; child sex tourism is a specific form of child prostitution and is a developing phenomenon; US sex tourists who target children form a significant percentage of child sex tourists in some of the most significant destination countries for child sex tourism; NCMEC states most victims of sex offenders are minors; Media reports indicate that known sex offenders who have committed crimes against children are traveling internationally, and that the criminal background of such individuals may not be known to local law enforcement prior to their arrival;  Between 2003 and 2009, ICE obtained 73 convictions of individuals from the US charged with committing sexual crimes against minors in other countries; the detection and investigation of child sex predators overseas is costly; Such an undercover operation can cost approximately $250,000; Sex offenders are also attempting to enter the US; Foreign governments need to be encouraged to notify the US as well as other countries when a known sex offender is entering our borders; Child sex tourists may travel overseas to commit sexual offenses against minors; Individuals who have been arrested in and deported from a foreign country for sexually exploiting children have used long-term passports to evade return to their country of citizenship where they faced possible charges and instead have moved to a third country where they have continued to exploit and abuse children; In order to protect children, it is essential that United States law enforcement be able to identify high risk child sex offenders in the US who are traveling abroad and child sex offenders from other countries entering the US; Such identification requires cooperative efforts between the US and foreign governments; and “The United States, with its international law enforcement relations, technological and communications capability, and established sex offender registry system, should now take the opportunity to lead the global community in the effort to save thousands of potential child victims by notifying other countries of travel by sex offenders who pose a high risk of exploiting children, maintaining information about sex offenders from the United States who reside overseas, and strongly encouraging other countries to undertake the same measures to protect children around the world.”

Congress relies on a very porous argument to justify passing International Megan’s law; the findings imply that many (if not all) registered sex offenders with passports are using them to engage in sex tourism and eluding detection while traveling abroad. This is a classic example of “fallacy of the undistributed middle” [34]  (a form of non sequitur) that follows the formula, “If all Y are A, and all Z are A, then all Y are Z.” Here, Congress states “If sex tourists/ trafficker are sex offenders, and John Q. Public is a registered sex offender traveling abroad, then John Q. Public is a Sex Tourist/ Trafficker.” Megan Kanka’s death was not the result of “sex tourism;” this statement is merely added to the findings to appeal to emotion and to attempt to link registered citizens to sex tourism. However, even the aforementioned Congressional findings state only 73 convictions for sex tourism over a 7 year period have occurred (10.3 convictions per year). Of course, Congress did not state how many of these 73 convictions were of individuals with prior sex crime arrests.  The GAO found that at least 4500 registered citizens had obtained a passport in 2008 alone, and that number “is likely to be understated because of data limitations in the passport and NSOR databases.” [35]  Even if every one of the 73 travelers convicted of sex tourism was a registered citizen (which they likely were not), then that is still 0.22% of the total registrants who have obtained passports in 2008. This has not stopped Chris Smith from assuming the 4500 registrant passport applications was a sign that many sex offenders look to prey on victims in foreign countries. [36]

Even the US Department of Justice admits that the number of individuals who travel overseas for “sex tourism” cannot be accurately estimated. They could only make the dubious claim that the demand is “increasing.” The US DoJ notes, “the number of reported incidents declined sharply in 2008 (392) and again in 2009 (247),” but claims the reason for the decrease is “most likely reflecting an improved ability of child sex tourists to operate online in a less detectable fashion.” The US DoJ claims that sex tourists travel “in secret” and finding evidence and victims is a difficult and costly task, as difficulties in prosecuting sex tourism cases. [37]  These are merely assumptions because there is no way to accurately determine the reason for the decline. However, these are very small numbers to begin with, so even small changes will result in “major increases” or “major declines.”

The US DoJ conducted an interview of 168 “child exploitation experts” from the now defunct National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) and added it as a supplement to the 2010 child exploitation report. While 35% of NDIC interviewees reported “it is believed that the extent to which U.S. citizens and Resident Aliens are engaging in sex tourism is significant” and 15% “reported that sex tourism is a major vulnerability and there is potential for it to become a huge industry,” thus, “deserv[ing] more attention than it has received,” 50% reported never investigating a single suspected case of sex tourism, while 25% reported having only “very infrequently” encountered sex tourism cases. [38]  The eAdvocate blog reposted two charts from various NCMEC reports on the amount of reported child sex trafficking; one chart reported only 433 “sex tourism incident reports” for 2008 and the second reported only 392. [39]

Upon analyzing the stats from the US Department of Justice and the testimony for the 2010 version of International Megan’s Law, eAdvocate concludes, “Congress doesn’t have a shred of evidence that U.S. registrants are causing, or even participating in, sex tourism. So everything said before the U.S. House was hogwash, at least as to implying sex tourism is caused by registrants of U.S. registries. The credibility of speeches made in the U.S. House on July 27, 2010 are definitely questionable, as they pertain to former registered sex offenders of U.S. registries! Now, a few times within the Report is mentioned, that, it is believed that 25% of sex tourism emanates from the United States. Assuming the truth of that statement, it is not coming from registrants of U.S. registries; is it possible these are new sex offenders, never before convicted of a sex crime? Not according to Congress.”[40]

The GAO’s June 2010 report attempted to justify allowing limits on passports by studying 30 registered citizens who had obtained passports. The US Department of State blasted the GAO report. “We think the report is very misleading. Starting with the title, ‘Passports Issued to Thousands of Registered Sex Offenders,’ we are concerned that it conveys more ‘shock value’ than factual accuracy… To be accurate and balanced, the title should read: ‘Existing U.S. Law Allows Passports to Be Issued to Registered Sex Offenders, Although GAO Found No Evidence That Sex Offenders Used Their Passports to Travel Abroad to Commit Sex Offenses.’”[41]

“The report appears to suggest, without any foundation, that the Department’s issuance of passports to certain Americans facilitated their commission of sex offenses abroad. There are no facts in the report which show that any of the thirty individuals included in the case studies used his passport to travel to a foreign country to commit a sex crime. Rather, it appears that most (if not all) the individuals included in the case studies committed sex crimes either within their own state or after traveling to a neighboring state. There also is no evidence connecting the sex offender to sex crimes overseas following their convictions.”[42]

Attempting a counter to the State Department’s assertion the report provided no evidence that the subjects of the study obtained passports to engage in sex tourism, the GAO stated, “In our report, we did not state that the issuance of passports to sex offenders in fiscal year 2008 facilitated their commission of sex offenses abroad. This was not part of our objectives for this review. However, our introduction does cite examples from DOJ in which prior sex offenders committed sex crimes overseas. Our investigation did find several cases where the passport recipients traveled to locations known for sex tourism, and one of our 30 cases is currently under indictment related to sex crimes overseas.” [43]

The US Department of Justice also makes the dubious claim that “Some reporting indicates that as many as 80 percent of the child sex tourists in Latin America and 25 percent of those in Southeast Asia are U.S. citizens.” [44] It cites World Vision, a Christian organization, as a reference. The World Vision FAQ on Child Sex Tourism makes the claim repeated by the US DoJ, but fails to cite any references or the original source material forming the basis of this claim. [45] This is actually quite typical, as statistics are routinely reported with little to no basis in fact.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, writing for Reason Magazine, calls the War on Sex Trafficking the ‘New War on Drugs.” She points out during the rise of the War on Drugs, there were reports of roving bands of drug traffickers kidnapped and coerced numerous teenagers, mostly runaways, into the drug trade, often beating them for not meeting “quotas.” As the result of the panic over drugs, “Lawmakers touted harsher penalties for drug offenses. The war on drugs raged. New task forces were created. Civilians were trained how to ‘spot’ drug traffickers in the wild, and students instructed how to rat out drug-using parents. Politicians spoke of a drug ‘epidemic’ overtaking America, its urgency obviously grounds for anything we could throw its way.” Brown adds, “We know now how that all worked out.” Brown finds many similarities between these two wars. “Because of the visceral feelings that the issue of paid sex has always provoked, it’s easy for overstatements and false statistics to go unchallenged, winning repetition in congressional hearings and the press. Yet despite all the dire proclamations, there’s little evidence of anything approaching an ‘epidemic’ of sexual slavery.” She cited Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” columnist, who began digging into government-promulgated sex-slavery numbers and discovered just how dubious many of them are. “Because sex trafficking is considered horrific, politicians appear willing to cite the flimsiest and most poorly researched statistics—and the media is content to treat the claims as solid facts,” Kessler concluded. [46]  

The misuse of statistics has occurred even in the face of repeated attempts from chief researchers in the field and the bureaucracies have found no evidence to validate the claims of widespread human trafficking claims. “‘PLEASE DO NOT CITE THESE NUMBERS,’ wrote Michelle Stransky and David Finkelhor of the respected Crimes Against Children Research Center in 2008. ‘The reality is that we do not currently know how many juveniles are involved in prostitution. Scientifically credible estimates do not exist.’ A lengthy 2013 report on child sex trafficking from the Justice Department concluded that “no reliable national estimate exists of the incidence or prevalence of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States.” Brown also points out how government bureaucracies continue to use faulty information even when the study is debunked by the study’s own authors: “The DHS also asserts that “the average age a child is trafficked into the commercial sex trade is between 11 and 14 years old,” sourcing it to the DOJ and the government’s NCMEC. Yet none of these federal agencies take responsibility for this stat. When Kessler followed the facts down the rabbit hole, the original source in all cases was…the self-disowned Estes paper, in which interviews with 107 teens doing street-based prostitution in the 1990s determined that their average age of entry into the business was 13.” [47]

No matter how often the sex trafficking panic is proven to be a moral panic by researchers and government agencies, it is drowned out by the victim industry. Brown states, “these new laws aren’t organic responses by legislators in the face of an uptick in human trafficking activity or inadequate current statutes. They are in large part the result of a decades-long anti-prostitution crusade from Christian “abolitionists” and anti-sex feminists, pushed along by officials who know a good political opportunity when they see it and by media that never met a moral panic they didn’t like. The fire is fueled by federal money, which sends police departments and activist groups into a grant-grubbing frenzy. The anti-trafficking movement is ‘just one big federal grant program,’ Michael Hudson, a scholar with the conservative Hudson Institute, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. ‘Everybody is more worried about where they’re going to get their next grant’ than helping victims, Hudson said. Because of the visceral feelings that the issue of paid sex has always provoked, it’s easy for overstatements and false statistics to go unchallenged, winning repetition in congressional hearings and the press. Yet despite all the dire proclamations, there’s little evidence of anything approaching an ‘epidemic’ of sexual slavery.” [48]

Since the reality is indeed the amount of sex tourism or trafficking by American registered citizens is anecdotal at best, it is hard to justify any cost to implement such a costly system. As reported by eAdvocate in 2010, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of International Megan’s Law would have costed the US “$252 million over 2011-2015 to implement IML assuming money is actually appropriated. That amounts to: $252 million/5 years (Difference between 2011 and 2015) or 50.4 million per year. And, if it costs $50,400,000 per year that also means the U.S. would be spending $5,040,000 to capture EACH of the 10 offenders per year committing this type of crime. And, that is $5 million in administrative costs for IML without the costs of investigating the crime in a foreign country, then add the costs of imprisoning the offenders.” If passed in 2010, IML would have impacted an estimated 10,000 registered citizens. [49]

Costs alone for the bureaucratic agency what would be created by International Megan’s Law was estimated in 2010 to cost “$8 million annually, including salaries, benefits, computer systems, and support costs… costs would increase annually with inflation.” “Considering the number of sex offenders who travel internationally, CBO expects that the agency would need to hire 40 to 50 persons to carry out the responsibilities of the International Sex Offender Travel Center, which ICE anticipates would be staffed at all times.” [50]

There is not a cost analysis of the controversial “unique identifier” provision, but every registered citizen with a passport would be required to turn in their current passports to receive a new passport with the unique identifier. If the 2008 estimate of 4500 new passports were acquired by registered citizens in 2008 remained steady in subsequent years, then 36,000 registered citizens would be immediately affected just from those obtaining passports between 208 and 2015. It will take millions of dollars just to identify and notify those registrants with passports of the new rules. (As previously noted, the bureaucratic agencies lack the sophistication to accurately estimate how many registered citizens have passports.) More than likely, the government would take the easy way out and wait until a registrant actually travels abroad before springing the rule changes. This means that thousands of registered citizens can make travel plans only to be denied after the plans have been made.


International Megan’s Law is an attempt at imposing the American way of thinking on the rest of the world, an act of arrogance that will lead to disastrous results if implemented. IML will attempt to force other nations to create a registry and raise the age of consent to conform to the American standards. This is a blatant violation of international law and a show of contempt for the governments of all nations who do not maintain close ties to the US.

Victim industry advocates have tried to justify International Megan’s Law using anecdotal examples, assumptions, unsourced statistics and non sequiturs to attempt to justify this bad piece of legislation. In reality, various government agencies have reported they have found very few examples of actual sex tourism, and even fewer examples of sex tourism from a registered citizen. It is estimated only about 10 convictions a year occur from Americans engaging in sex tourism annually. The GAO, the US Dept. of Justice, ICE, and the now defunct NDIC have all stated they have found few, if any, examples of Americans traveling abroad specifically to engage in sex tourism or sex trafficking. Key researchers studying sex crimes have repeatedly warned their own research or the research of others have been misinterpreted or distorted by those trying to promote human sex trafficking as America’s next social panic.

International Megan’s Law will be a costly and ineffective measure. It will cost millions just to establish a new bureaucratic agency and to revise the passports of registered citizens. It will cost millions more to enforce the various proposed changes to passports proposed by Congress. Passport limits run afoul of international law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), by interfering with the free movement of citizens. The ICCPR was signed, ratified, and enforced by the US. In addition, 22 U.S. Code § 217a has been narrowly tailored to limit passports only to those registrants convicted in a court of law for sex tourism, thus nullifying the perceived need to pass IML passport provisions. As previously noted, very few cases of sex tourism/ trafficking are confirmed by government agencies, so the cost of investigating and prosecuting a mere handful of cases do not justify the need for a new bureaucracy, especially if the SMART office is passing IML notification provisions without the authorization of Congress.

The proposal to mark the passports of registered citizens is unprecedented in American history and is offensive enough that even mass media have made parallels between International Megan’s Law and Nazi law. In 1938, the Nazi government required all Jews to surrender their passports and have new passports issued with a scarlet “J” stamped on them. If IML passes, registered citizens will be forced to surrender their passports and have new passports issued with a “unique identifier” on them. In addition to the obvious parallel to Nazi law, this practice will obviously lead to travel impediments and denials of entry across the globe for all registrants regardless of offense. This mark of infamy could potentially lead to travel problems domestically as states struggle to fall into compliance with the so-called “REAL ID” system and thus requiring passports to fly within the boundaries of the US. Furthermore, IML could have an effect described as “humiliating” and “devastating” for individuals whose passports may be falsely marked as belonging to a registered citizen and would lead to costly litigation.

While certain provisions of IML imply that these provisions would be limited to “high risk/ interest” registrants, the harsh reality is this law will be applied to every registered citizen regardless of offense, even teens who engaged in consensual relations with other teens. The law is especially difficult for juveniles on the registry, who are assumed to be less likely to reoffend, more amenable to rehabilitation, and far less likely to become a “sex tourist.”

Finally, International Megan’s Law violates a number of constitutional safeguards, including the 1st (freedom of association) and 14th (Due process) Amendments, as well as the Ex Post Facto clause. In addition, protecting the reputation of American travels and their privacy is of great governmental interest, especially given the attitude of much of the world regarding American tourists. Unconsidered in this report was the potential chilling effect IML could have on ALL American tourists as the US gains a reputation for being a country full of “sex traffickers.” International Megan’s Law will ultimately do far more harm than good, not just in regard to registered citizens, but for the reputation of this nation as well.


  1. Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery. US Congressman Chris Smith. Web. <>
  2. Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (P.L. 106-386). US Congressman Chris Smith. Web. http://chrissmith.housegov/lawsandresolutions/tvpa.htm
  3. See
  4. See
  5. See
  8. See Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 7 / Tuesday, January 11, 2011 / Notices, pages 1633-1634. Web. <>
  11. Here is HR 515 as it left the Senate Committee: Compare it to S-1867:
  12. “Newsroom: Passports and International Megan’s Law.” US Department of State. Oct. 30, 2017. https://travel.state.
    gov/content/passports/en/news/passports-international-megans-law.html, Retrieved Oct. 30, 2017
  13. Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 7 / Tuesday, January 11, 2011 / Notices, p. 1633
  14. Ibid.
  16. PASSPORT ISSUANCE: Current Situation Results in Thousands of Passports Issued to Registered Sex Offenders. GAO. June 2010. Web. <> pgs. 4-5
  17. Post, David. “The yellow star, the scarlet letter, and ‘International Megan’s Law’.” Washington Post. 6 Jan. 2016. Web. <>
  18. “German Jews’ Passports Declared Invalid.” US Holocaust Memorial Museum. 2016. Web. <>
  19. Skenazy, Lenore. “Labeling sex offenders’ passports is overkill.” New York Post. NYP Holdings. 6 Jan. 2016. Web. <>
  20. Micolucci, Vic. “Jacksonville man mistakenly labeled sex offender on Florida ID.” News4Jax. Graham Media Group. 9 May 2013. Web. <>
  21. Hayes, Christal. “Woman whose drivers license falsely marked her as ‘sexual predator’ threatens to sue state.” Orlando Sentinel. 7 May 2015. Web. <>
  22. “REAL ID and You: Rumor Control.” Department of Homeland Security. 2016. Web. <>. To check if your state is Real ID Compliant, visit As of January 30, 2016, AL, CO, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, HI, IN, IA, KS, MD, MS, NE, NV, OH, SD, TN, UT, VT, WV, WI, & WY are Real ID compliant.
  23. Viera, Danielle. “Try as They Might, Just Can’t Get it Right: Shortcomings of the International Megan’s Law of 2010.” Emory International Law Review. Vol. 25, Issue 3. Pp. 1540-1541. Web version at <>
  24. Ibid., pgs. 1542
  25. “International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking: Misguided and Ineffective Policy.” National RSOL. Position Paper. Web. <>
  26. See
  27. Bassler, Will. “Amendment to H.R. 515 Is Based On Lies.” SOSEN. 28 Jan. 2016. Web. <>
  28. “REGISTERED SEX OFFENDERS: Sharing More Information Will Enable Federal Agencies to Improve Notifications of Sex  Offenders’ International
    Travel.” GAO. February 2013, p.11. Web. <>
  29. “Foreign Child Molesters not allowed into Sri Lanka.” Hiru News. Rayynor Silva Holdings. Asia Broadcasting Corporation. 21 March 2013. Web. <>
  30. Ramirez, Jun. “Manila Bulletin: Sex offenders to be barred from entering Philippines.” Travel Impact Newswire. 7 June 2014. Web <>
  31. “‘Guardian Angel’ Keeps Sex Offenders Out of Vallarta.” Banderas News. 9 May 2014. <>
  32. Viera, “Shortcomings,” Emory Law, pgs. 1543-1544.
  33. Davis, Mike. “House passes International Megan’s Law, notifies foreign countries of traveling sex offenders.” New Jersey On-Line LLC. 27 Jan 2015. Web. <>
  35. GAO, “Passport,” Summary page.
  36. Davis, “House Passes IML,”
  37. “The National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction.” US Dept. of Justice. August 2010. Web. Pgs. 36-37. <>
  38.  Ibid., pg. D-24.
  39.  eAdvocate, “International Megans law EXPOSED! Part-2 of the truth about HR 5138.” Sex Offender Research & State News. 3 Aug. 2010. Web. <>
  40. Ibid.
  41. GAO, “Passport,” p.18-19
  42. Ibid., p. 20
  43. Ibid., p. 11
  44. US DoJ, “Nat’l Strategy,” p.36
  45. “Frequently Asked Questions: Child Sex Tourism.” World Vision, Inc. 2016. Web. <!OpenDocument&Click=>
  46. Brown, Elizabeth Nolan. “The War on Sex Trafficking Is the New War on Drugs.” Reason Foundation. Nov. 2015. Web. <>
  47. Ibid.
  48. Ibid.
  49. eAdvocate. “International Megans law EXPOSED! Now, hear the truth …” Sex Offender Research & State News. 30 July 2010. Web. <>
  50. “H.R. 5138 International Megan’s Law of 2010.” CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE COST ESTIMATE. As ordered reported by the House
    Committee on Foreign Affairs on April 28, 2010. Web. <>


The USA joins Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as the only nations in the world to mark the passports of certain citizens as of October 2017:


The IML prohibits the Department of State from issuing a passport to a covered sex offender without a unique identifier, and it allows for the revocation of passports
previously issued to these individuals that do not contain the identifier (22 USC 212b).

The identifier is a passport endorsement, currently printed inside the back cover of the passport book, which reads: “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212b(c)(l).”  Since endorsements cannot be printed on passport cards, covered “sex offenders” cannot be issued passport cards.