INDIANAPOLIS - An Indiana law that bans registered sex offenders from accessing Facebook and other social networking sites that can be accessed by children is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Chicago overturned a federal judge's decision upholding the law, saying the "blanket ban" was too broad and didn't protect children.
"It broadly prohibits substantial protected speech rather than specifically targeting the evil of improper communications to minors," the judges said in a 20-page decision.
Sharon Pierce from Prevent child Abuse Indiana was disappointed by the ruling.
"Certainly we'll look at how we'll adapt the law to make it constitutional and legal, but we'll also continue to step up our work with parents and children about the risks of being on the internet and Facebook and how dangerous that can be for children," Pierce said.
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 to lurk." She noted that the Internet remains open to those who have been convicted of sex offenses.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the class-action suit on behalf of a man who served three years for child exploitation and other sex offenders who are restricted by the ban even though they are no longer on probation.
"What this law does is address a person who committed a crime 25 years ago, who is starting up a business on LinkedIn, or wants to communicate with the pope on Twitter, or participate in a political campaign. That's what this law targets, and that's completely innocent conduct. If the First Amendment is going to mean anything at all, it means the state, even with the best of intentions, can't sweep away people's constitutional rights in such a broad fashion," Ken Falk with the ACLU said.
It is the job of Attorney General Greg Zoeller to defend state statutes. Zoeller issued a statement saying in part, protecting children from predators outweighed the interest of allowing convicted sex offenders to troll social media for information.
Zoeller's office is evaluating what to do next.
Federal judges have barred similar laws in Nebraska and Louisiana.
Officials at the ACLU and the Indiana attorney general's office said they hadn't yet reviewed the ruling and had no immediate comment.
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