Appeals Court Finds Indiana’s Social Media Ban For Sex Offenders Unconstitutional
Sex offenders are once again allowed to hold social media accounts in Indiana, with the US Court of Appeals agreeing that the statute prohibiting most registered sex offenders from using social media websites was too broad and violated the First Amendment.
The law, passed in 2008, prohibited sex offenders from using a social media site or chat service that “the offender knows allows a person who is less than 18 years of age to access.”
The case was brought forward by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and an Indiana man convicted of child exploitation in 2000 and released in 2003, who went by the anonymous moniker “John Doe."
The ban was enforced regardless of the charge that offenders were convicted of, or whether they were still on probation.
“Indiana has other measures to protect children from potential online threats,” said Ken Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana. “This [law] was too broad.”
John Doe and the ACLU lost their prior hearing in June, when the US District Court for Southern Indiana decided that although “the statute captures considerable conduct that has nothing to do with interacting with minors,” social media “create[s] a ‘virtual playground’ for sexual predators to lurk” and therefore “the statute is not substantially broader than necessary to achieve its goals of prevention and deterrence.”
The US Court of Appeals overturned that decision, however, with Judge Joel Martin Flaum writing that Indiana “possess[es] existing tools to combat sexual predators.”
Laws implicating the First Amendment, Flaum continues, need “narrow tailoring,” but the current “blanket ban on social media in this case regrettably does not” meet this requirement.
The case had brought proponents of First Amendment rights and supporters for sexual abuse victims to a head over the issue of social media rights for convicted sex offenders.
Advocates for victim’s rights argued that sex offenders already have ample access to the Internet, negating the need for social media. But backers of free speech countered that the existing law did not discriminate between different types of sex offenders or the purpose of the social media usage, rendering the law unconstitutional.
“This law added prohibiting conduct that is completely innocent,” Falk said. “We are not to take the First Amendment lightly.”
Jenn Nowicki is a reporter for Campus Progress.