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Judge hears fight to sex offenders' Facebook ban

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A federal judge said Thursday she plans to rule within a month on the constitutionality of an Indiana law that bans registered sex offenders from using social networking websites where they could prey on children.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana is heading the class-action suit on behalf of a man who served three years for child exploitation, along with other sex offenders who are restricted by the ban even though they are no longer on probation. Federal judges have barred similar bans in Nebraska and Louisiana. Similar restrictions remain in effect in New York, Illinois and North Carolina.

In a one-hour hearing at U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt questioned attorneys about convicted sex offenders' civil rights and whether the state law is outdated in the age of Facebook, LinkedIn and dozens of other social networking sites.

ACLU attorney Ken Falk argued that even though the 2008 law is only intended to protect children from online sexual predators, it also prevents sex offenders from using social media for political, business and religious activity such as using Facebook to follow the pope or comment on newspaper websites, posting a profile on LinkedIn or following presidential candidates on Twitter.

Falk said the law violates the rights of communication, receiving information and association, all of which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled are guaranteed by the First Amendment. He also argued that the ban was unnecessary because Indiana already has a law that makes it a crime to use the Internet to contact a child for the purposes of sexual gratification.

Indiana Deputy Attorney General David Arthur argued that the 2008 ban is limited only to social networking sites that allow access by children, and that Facebook, Twitter and similar sites aren't the only forms of communication.

"We still have television. We still have radios. And believe it or not, people still talk face-to-face," he said. Arthur also said the ban doesn't apply to email or Internet message boards.

Falk said social media are almost indispensable. "It's not enough to say that the plaintiffs can still write letters or go to meetings," he said. "These are not adequate alternatives for instant communication."

Courts have long allowed states to place restrictions on convicted sex offenders who have completed their sentences, controlling where many of them live and work and requiring them to register with police. But Falk told Pratt that the social networking ban was far broader, restricting a wide swatch of constitutionally protected activities.

Arthur compared the social networking ban to laws barring sex offenders from school property and other places frequented by kids. Only in this case, he said, the place is virtual.

Similar social networking bans have been struck down in two other states.

In February, U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson found that Louisiana's prohibition was too broad and "unreasonably restricts many ordinary activities that have become important to everyday life."

Louisiana lawmakers passed a new law this month that more narrowly defines which sites are prohibited. News and government sites, email services and online shopping are excluded from the new rules, as are photo-sharing and instant-messaging systems. The measure takes effect Aug. 1.

In Nebraska, a federal judge in 2009 blocked part of a law that included a social networking ban. A second legal challenge by an Omaha-area sex offender is set for trial in July.

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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.

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