Court Upholds Indiana Law Banning Sex Offenders from Internet Social Networks
On Friday, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, upheld the law in Indiana that bans
from accessing Facebook and other social networking sites frequented by children. In her 18-page order, the judge mentioned that the state possesses a strong interest in
and the rest of the internet remains open to convicts. A national civil rights group has said that it would appeal the decision of the federal judge.
In the ruling, Judge Pratt wrote, “Social networking, chat rooms, and instant messaging programs have effectively created a ‘virtual playground’ for sexual predators to lurk.” In support of the judgment, the court cited a 2006 report of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which found that one in seven youths received online sexual solicitations and at least one in three were exposed to unwanted sexual material online.
The class-action suit had been filed by the
of Indiana on behalf of a person who had served three years in prison for child exploitation, and the suit was joined by other sex-offenders restricted by the ban even after their probationary periods are over. Similar laws in Louisiana and Nebraska have been blocked by federal judges.
Conventionally, courts have allowed states to decide the placing of
on convicted sex offenders after their sentenced terms had been completed. Such restrictions often include where a registered sex-offender may live and work, and also requirements to register themselves with the local police. However, according to the ACLU the nature of Indiana’s ban was broader by far and restricted too many constitutionally protected activities. The ACLU also observed that even though the Indiana law was intended to protect children from sex-predators, it also restricted the use of social networks for political, business, or religious activities by previously convicted sex-offenders.
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However, the court held that the ban in the Indiana law was only with regard to general
frequented by children and did not include social networks run exclusively for professional, religious, or political purposes, and also did not include networks where minors were not allowed. The judge held that besides the general social network sites where children frequent, there remain a vast array of options and alternative social network that can be used by registered sex-offenders for the legal activities they wished to pursue.
The ruling observed, “The Court readily concedes that social networking is a prominent feature of modern-day society; however, communication does not begin with a ‘Facebook wall post’ and end with a ‘140-character Tweet.’ ”
The Indiana law does not list which websites are banned, but court filings show networks like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Google Plus, chat rooms and instant messaging services are suspect. Pratt’s ruling made clear that LinkedIn did not come under the ban as children under 18 cannot join it.
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