Indiana is the latest state where civil liberties groups are challenging laws that prohibit sex offenders from using social media websites on grounds that the laws violate first amendment rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana claims that a 2008 law banning sex offenders from using social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn is an unconstitutional restraint on free speech and the right to participate in public online discussions. The Plaintiff in Doe v. Prosecutor of Marion County is an anonymous man released from prison in 2003, according to the Associated Press.
Cases like this are pitting anti-child exploitation advocates (who support such laws out of concern over the use of social media to commit sex offenses) against civil liberties groups wanting to protect fundamental civil rights. The ACLU believes the laws are overly broad and create too much of a burden on speech in an era where online communication is becoming an essential aspect of everyday life.
The Plaintiff contends that as a result of the Indiana law, he cannot participate in television debates or comment on news stories on many local websites that require users to have a social media account such as Facebook. On a more basic level, he is also unable to communicate with out-of-state friends and family members via social media.
The ACLU has thus far been successful in attacking these laws in two other states. Earlier this year, a Federal Judge in Louisiana overturned a similar law for being overly broad and finding that it “unreasonably restricts many ordinary activities that have become important to everyday life.” In 2009, a Nebraska judge overturned portions of a social networking ban on similar grounds.
Carolyn Atwell-Davis of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has conceded that “[i]t’s going to be really, really hard, I think, to write something that will achieve the state’s purpose in protecting children online but not be restrictive enough to be unconstitutional.“
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