Banning sex offenders from social media sites violates free speech, Federal court rules

By on January 23, 2013, 6:30 PM

Due to First Amendment concerns, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has invalidated an Indiana law barring registered sex offenders from using social network sites. "The Indiana law targets substantially more activity than the evil it seeks to redress," the judgment warned. The ruling can be found here (pdf).

Although criticized as being too broad, the Indiana law did attempt to target social media and networking websites specifically. The bill explicitly afforded sex offenders the ability to continue using message boards, instant messenger tools and chat rooms -- but the terms which defined a "social networking web site" were apparently too fuzzy for the appellate court's taste:

A 'social networking web site' means an Internet web site that: (1) facilitates the social introduction between two or more persons; (2) requires a person to  register or create an account, a username, or a password to become a member of the web site and to communicate with other members; (3) allows a member to create  a web  page or a  personal profile; and (4) provides a member with the opportunity to communicate with another person. The term does not include an electronic mail program or message board program."

Source: ca7.uscourts.gov (pdf)

The legislation was actually more lenient than some existing state laws. Louisiana is one such example -- a state where sexual convicts are precluded from social networking, instant messaging, P2P networks, chat rooms and more. However, violating Indiana's law under certain conditions could still result in a felony conviction.

Of course, Indiana isn't the first state to impose Internet restrictions upon registered sex offenders. In 2007, New Jersey essentially banned convicted sex offenders from using the Internet. New York, on the other hand, has been taking away online gaming privileges through "Operation: Game Over" -- an ongoing effort where state officials are cooperating with private companies to ban online gaming accounts of sexual miscreants.

In addition to government-sponsored online restrictions for sex criminals, some websites have themselves taken steps to impose limits. Facebook, for example, states in their Terms of Service, "6. You will not use Facebook if you are a convicted sex offender."




User Comments: 20

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1 person liked this | ikesmasher said:

I thought it was commonly known that when you commit a criminal act, you lose the right to certain liberties.

BlueDrake said:

I thought it was commonly known that when you commit a criminal act, you lose the right to certain liberties.

My guess is as the article said they were too vague. They will likely refine it to be specific enough, just so it's not tossed out again. Really though.. how is free speech related to such things? You're more likely to continue such acts, or so it's known with access to "social networking" sites.

That's really where the issue resides. I'm hoping they come up with a reasonable solution. Not like FB is a great place to be, to generally begin with but that's my view.

1 person liked this | Jcanno0759 said:

If they can't be banned, they should be labeled. Example: John smith - SO (sex offender)

MrAnderson said:

"Commonly known" is the key phrase... I don't think it is "commonly known" as much as common sense is often practiced.

2 people like this | FF222 said:

The whole sex offender issue is blow waaaay out of proportions. People who take other people's lives (either by accident or in affect) get a few years in prison, and then can live on as if nothing have happened. But when a 17 year old has sex with a 16 year old, or if someone has drawings (!) of girls or boys on his/her computer what the judge thinks depicts "underage" persons, or even if someone just urinates in public after a night out (where they might have been drugged by others), then these persons get labeled for a life, and banned from fundamental services?

The world is sick - but mainly not because of so called "sex offenders", but because obviously witch hunt is still common practice in modern society. It's just called differently now.

1 person liked this | RH00D RH00D said:

The whole sex offender issue is blow waaaay out of proportions. People who take other people's lives (either by accident or in affect) get a few years in prison, and then can live on as if nothing have happened. But when a 17 year old has sex with a 16 year old, or if someone has drawings (!) of girls or boys on his/her computer what the judge thinks depicts "underage" persons, or even if someone just urinates in public after a night out (where they might have been drugged by others), then these persons get labeled for a life, and banned from fundamental services?

The world is sick - but mainly not because of so called "sex offenders", but because obviously witch hunt is still common practice in modern society. It's just called differently now.

I agree. It's mind boggling how in the long run you get off easier for murdering someone than you do for exposing your dink in public.

Guest said:

WTF ?

no wonder the great America is in the poohbin.

No suprise when you see who is at the helm though.

1 person liked this | cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I still say the sex offenders can be labeled as such for petty incidences. The incidences may not even be true just believable. I could never stand behind such restrictions as long as there is only one classification for sex offenders. When people see the term sex offender they visualize the worst, because there is no differentiation between offenses. Here they are trying to restrict the worst cases but yet its all of them that would pay regardless of the offense they committed or was accused of.

2 people like this | captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I still say the sex offenders can be labeled as such for petty incidences. The incidences may not even be true just believable. I could never stand behind such restrictions as long as there is only one classification for sex offenders. When people see the term sex offender they visualize the worst, because there is no differentiation between offenses. Here they are trying to restrict the worst cases but yet its all of them that would pay regardless of the offense they committed or was accused of.
Indeed. Perhaps me, and many of my contemporaries would have never made it out of the 60's and 70's without lengthy criminal records.:eek:

We like to think we're "enlightened", but the US Supreme Court didn't officially end anti-sodomy laws until 1993.

So, that means the pretty much any male over 40, who is now petitioning for "gay rights", and "gay marriage", should have "sex offender" tacked onto his criminal jacket.

Also keep in mind, that depending on jurisdiction, adultery and sex out of wedlock were at one time felonies.

And then we currently have "age of consent issues", that overeager prosecutors trying to make a name for themselves are pursuing. Not to mention minors "sexting" being prosecuted as "adult child pornographers". That means every boy currently dating his slightly younger high school sweetheart, has to stop having sex with her, the minute he turns 18, or faces having "sex offender" tacked onto his criminal jacket. And keep clean undies on girls, you never know when you'll wind up on somebody's iPhone.

So straighten up kids, the only things left for you to do are; abandon any sexual contact with others, take up masturbating with great vigor and determination, and give all your money to the Apple corporation.

If you buy online, you can masturbate emphatically while you're making the purchase (*). Have yourselves a nice day, and a better "Applegasm".

(*) Whoops! It seems I may have accidentally stumbled onto the reason Apple product owners act the way they do...

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

WTF ?

no wonder the great America is in the poohbin.

No suprise when you see who is at the helm though.

You'll have nothing to complain about once you've considered who's at the helm of my country South Africa.(It's embarrassing)

Anyway it's my feeling convicted serious offenders shouldn't have any rights at all. They didn't respect the rights of their victims so why should we have any sympathy for them. they're just a drain on the taxpayer & country's resources. Stuff them, they are where they are because they deserve it. If I had my way I would bring back public executions for the really serious offenders.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

You'll have nothing to complain about once you've considered who's at the helm of my country South Africa.(It's embarrassing)
Not to mention the former great leaders of sub Saharan Africa in general.

For example, Idi Amin....http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idi_Amin

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

Not to mention the former great leaders of sub Saharan Africa in general.

For example, Idi Amin....http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idi_Amin

Ugh. There's no difference between him, Hitler & Stalin. We used to have a wonderful leader in the form of Nelson Mandela though. They sure don't make them like they used to...

2 people like this | seefizzle said:

I think the ruling is correct. Banning someone from using facebook is the equivalent of banning someone from using the US postal service. In the end it accomplishes nothing.

In fact, the entirety of the sex offender registry as well as the special laws governing sex offenders do absolutely nothing to prevent crimes from happening. The sex offender registry is a citizen database for police officer to catch criminals AFTER the fact. So if a rape occurs in a certain area the police could search the list of sex offenders nearby and try to match descriptions and solve a crime after it has happened.

Thinking that this registry protects anything is foolish. I'd argue that the sex offender registry does more harm than good. It makes people paranoid. It scares people more than it helps. It makes people think theres boogey men everywhere, when the actual amount of perverts and child molesters is very very small. Your child has a better chance of being struck by lightning than being abducted or molested.

And if you really disagree with me, consider this... your child isn't likely to be molested/abducted/raped by someone on the sex offender registry. If your child is abused, it will most certainly be by the hands of someone you know love and trust. An uncle, cousin, boyfriend, babysitter, etc.

Stranger danger and the general fear our culture is steeped in is just another way the media makes us fear the world and our fellow man. It's unnecessary and telling sex offenders they can't use facebook is worthless. Sure, I think it's a good idea to tell sex offenders they can't hang out at schools, but when you start limiting sex offenders use of technology you're stepping in a grey area that doesn't make sense.

Mandark Mandark said:

They should have to wear a Scarlet Letter then, or some indicator, so they can be "properly" shunned

Tygerstrike said:

@see

I disagree. I feel the sex offender registery is a good idea. You are correct in half of your statement about someone you trust causing the molestation, but its as equally likely to be a stranger. How many children have been kidnapped and killed in 2012? I feel that those sex offenders need to have a tiered system. Lvl 1 is your "accidental" offenders, Lvl 5 being the worst. That way the worst offenders CAN be banned, and the lvl 1 offenders have some chance at a life. Its all a moot point anyways. It is what it is. Untill there are enough of the "accidental" offenders to speak out with a clear voice for change in the laws, we have to deal with the blanket effect. Yes those ppl who didnt rape/molest/harass children get the short end of the stick, but that was brought on by themselves. Be it the 17yr old sleeping with his 16 yr old girlfriend, or the guy urinating in public. Poor decisions on thier part put them in that situation. I feel for them, but not enough to change the sex offender laws.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Be it the 17yr old sleeping with his 16 yr old girlfriend.
The way I see this particular incident is in order for one to be a sex offender, someone had to be offended. In this case who was offended and who was the offender. If it was consented then both parties share the offense of offending the parent equally. Parents sticking a (especially when it's for life) charge on one side and not the other is hypocritical.

1 person liked this | captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

They should have to wear a Scarlet Letter then, or some indicator, so they can be "properly" shunned
Yeah, and right after that we should start back up burning witches...! So, who's got the marshmallows...?

The "scarlet letter", not exactly a new concept...: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scarlet_Letter

So, shall we put you in the stocks on the town square if you should, (God forbid), forget to pay your electric bill?

That's what I put on my Christmas list but didn't get again this year, a "Scarlet Letter Paint by Number Set". Well, I didn't get the pair of jack boots and the swastika arm band either....

Woe to me, it wasn't a good day under the tannenbaum, at all.:oops:

3 people like this | seefizzle said:

@see

I disagree. I feel the sex offender registery is a good idea. You are correct in half of your statement about someone you trust causing the molestation, but its as equally likely to be a stranger. How many children have been kidnapped and killed in 2012? I feel that those sex offenders need to have a tiered system. Lvl 1 is your "accidental" offenders, Lvl 5 being the worst. That way the worst offenders CAN be banned, and the lvl 1 offenders have some chance at a life. Its all a moot point anyways. It is what it is. Untill there are enough of the "accidental" offenders to speak out with a clear voice for change in the laws, we have to deal with the blanket effect. Yes those ppl who didnt rape/molest/harass children get the short end of the stick, but that was brought on by themselves. Be it the 17yr old sleeping with his 16 yr old girlfriend, or the guy urinating in public. Poor decisions on thier part put them in that situation. I feel for them, but not enough to change the sex offender laws.

Statistical odds, your child has a better chance of being struck by lightning than being abducted and abused by a stranger.

There already is a tiered system in place. It's useless. Look it up, then look up some sex offenders in your area. Using the information publicly available in combination with the tiered system's descriptions and try to determine whether or not any one of the people you find on the list is actually a threat to public safety or the safety of your children. The task is not possible because not enough information is given. It's all useless when you add up the parts of the whole. Does no one any good.

The problem with the sex offender registry is that it doesn't differentiate between who actually is a risk to the public and who isn't. I guess there probably isn't a way to differentiate. The problem however is simply the public perception of the word sex offender. When someone says sex offender, the only thing anyone thinks of is that the person is a child molester. Sex offender does not equal child molester.

With that in mind... there are dozens of offenses that could put someone on the sex offender's list. Some of which are so vile that telling that person they can't use a service like Facebook is a reasonable thing. The rest of the offenses wouldn't warrant kicking the person off Facebook. So who makes that call? I think that it's not something that could be easily determined and thus blanketing all sex offenders from Facebook is not a reasonable thing to do.

But outside of all of that stuff... my main point still stands... the sex offender registry as well as all associated laws specific to sex offenders do nothing to stop future abuses. Sex offenders have the lowest recidivism rates of any type of crime, and the ones that will and do re-offend... the laws and list couldn't possibly stop them.

I think the sex offender registry is completely useless. I think the sex offender registry should be private, only available to law enforcement, and should only be searchable by employers like schools who would actually need to know whether or not someone is a pedophile or not. Past that, it's all fear mongering and pointless.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

The way I see this particular incident is in order for one to be a sex offender, someone had to be offended. In this case who was offended and who was the offender.
So you're saying that it comes down to who was on top......? .....or maybe:eek: !

wiyosaya said:

The link to the PDF is broken.

Like others here, the registry, IMHO, does nothing to distinguish truly harmful people. Its a label very much like witch was.

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