WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that states can post sex offenders’ photos and other personal information on the Internet, a step the states say is aimed at protecting people from criminals living nearby.

In a key first test of “Megan’s law” provisions that are on the books in every state, the justices said sex-offender registries are not an unconstitutional extra punishment for offenders who already have served their sentences.

“The publicity may cause adverse consequences for the convicted defendants, running from mild personal embarrassment to social ostracism,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the 6-3 decision.

But the laws are intended, he said, “to inform the public for its own safety, not to humiliate the offender.”

About 35 states have Internet listings now, most of them featuring pictures, and the court’s ruling may encourage more.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a dissent joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, said listing people as registered sex offenders “calls to mind shaming punishments once used to mark an offender as someone to be shunned,” like branding a murderer with the letter “M.”

Kennedy compared the Internet listings to paperwork being kept in a government office, but said it is just more easily accessible. Kennedy said it was not like requiring “an offender to appear in public with some visible badge of past criminality.”

The contested Alaska registry puts offenders’ pictures on the Web along with information about where they live and work and what kind of car they drive. Repeat offenders must report to police every 90 days, notifying authorities when they grow a beard or change their appearance.

Justice John Paul Stevens, who provided the third vote against Alaska’s law, said offenders have lost their jobs, their homes and been threatened after being listed. He said the law wrongly punishes people who served prison time for sex crimes before the Alaska registration law was passed.

In a separate case, the court rejected a challenge from sex offenders who argued they deserved a chance to prove they are not dangerous in order to avoid being put in the registries.

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