Federal court overturns sex offender social media law

Court rules Indiana law banning sex offenders from social media unconstitutional

Published On: Jan 30 2013 04:41:31 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 24 2013 10:41:45 AM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

A federal appeals court has ruled that an Indiana law banning registered sex offenders from accessing Facebook and other social networking sites is unconstitutional.

The 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Chicago on Wednesday overturned a federal judge's decision to uphold the law, saying the ban was too broad.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled in June that the state has a strong interest in protecting children and found that social networking had created a "virtual playground for sexual predators."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the class-action suit on behalf of sex offenders including a man who served three years for child exploitation. They were all restricted by the ban even though they are no longer on probation.

Parents Channel 4 spoke with said they find the federal court's ruling startling.

"It's kind of scary because you have young kinds on Facebook, like 14 and 15-year-olds," said Shannon Edwards.

Edwards said she sees social media as a means by which offenders can "meet kids and set them up."

Richard Kuritz, a former sex crimes prosecutor, said he's not surprised by the ruling.

"There's certain speech that you can regulate. Fighting words, defamation of character. And what they're trying to do is regulate speech where predator is going after a child. The problem is, it's too broad and they're regulating all speech," said Kuritz.

Kuritz said offenders who are not on probation already have a legal right to get on the internet, and banning them from social media doesn't accomplish much.

"Anyone can go onto Facebook, set up bogus account. This law's not giong to do anything," said Kuritz.

The judge's ruled the social media ban was a violation of sex offender's constitutional rights because it stopped them from doing things like expressing political speech. Kuritz said the law will likely need to be rewritten to stick.

While most people Channel 4 spoke with about the news were shocked, some sided with the judge's decision.

"You have to think of individual freedom. He has right to expression of opinion on Facebook. It's a hard one, in my opinion," said Florim Apostol.