Skip to main content

Indiana can't kick sex offenders off social media, court says

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The Indiana law banned "completely innocent" conduct, the ACLU argued
  • NEW: The state's attorney general said the law protected "reasonable interests"
  • Indiana can't slap a "blanket ban" on social media for sex offenders, court finds
  • Federal judges have struck down similar bans in Nebraska and Louisiana

(CNN) -- Indiana can't kick all registered sex offenders off instant messaging services, chat rooms or social networking sites like Facebook, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The state passed a law in 2008 that was aimed at keeping predators from trolling the Internet for new victims. But that law "broadly prohibits substantial protected speech rather than specifically targeting the evil of improper communications to minors," a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded.

State courts can impose limits on social media as a condition of a sex offender's probation or parole, but a "blanket ban" on Internet use violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free expression, the judges found.

A district judge in Indianapolis had upheld the law in June, but federal courts in at least two other states -- Nebraska and Louisiana -- struck down similar state laws in 2012.

The Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the statute on behalf of an offender identified only as "John Doe," who had served 21 months in prison for child exploitation. "Doe" was released in 2003 and isn't on parole or probation, but was covered by the state ban.

Ken Falk, the group's legal director, said Indiana already has laws on the books barring the solicitiation of children, with enhanced penalties for inappropriate communications online. The law overturned Wednesday barred the "completely innocent" use of social media, he said.

"If you wanted to participate in a chat room to work around a candidate, you can't do that," he said. "If you want to follow the pope on Twitter, you can't do that."

News websites increasingly require commenters to log in via a social network, and Falk said "Doe" couldn't supervise his own child's use of social media under the law.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said his office has not decided whether to appeal the ruling.

"The Indiana Legislature made a policy decision in 2008 that the state's reasonable interests in protecting children from predators outweighed the interest of allowing convicted sex offenders to troll social media for information," Zoeller said in a statement issued by his office. "We have worked with county sheriffs and prosecutors in our defense of the legal challenges to these protections of our children, and we will need to review this 7th Circuit ruling to determine the state's next steps."

Facebook, the largest social media platform, already bars sex offenders from using the site under its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities states. It also prohibits children under 13 and multiple accounts on the site.

In the past, Facebook has worked with various states on legislation to help law enforcement find, prosecute and convict sexual predators who attempt to use the site.

Defense battles social media blizzard in Ohio rape case

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
February 8, 2013 -- Updated 0718 GMT (1518 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT