Judge tosses law banning sex offenders from Facebook

A federal judge has struck down a Louisiana law meant to keep registered sex offenders from Facebooking with minors because it encompasses too many types of websites.

Chief Judge Brian Jackson has thrown out a state law banning sex offenders from using Facebook and other social networks saying it was unreasonable and unconstitutional. In the Middle District of Louisiana, Jackson ruled that the law, which took effect in August, was too broad, as it encompassed many commonly read news websites, as well as social networks. During a hearing a few months before his ruling, Jackson noted the statute's definition of "chat room" meant that the court's own federal website could be included. He did, however, hint at the possibility of approving a more narrowly-defined law.

"Although the Act is intended to promote the legitimate and compelling state interest of protecting minors from internet predators, the near total ban on internet access imposed by the Act unreasonable restricts many ordinary activities that have become important to everyday life in today's world," Jackson wrote in his 17-page ruling (embedded above), according to CBS Houston. "The sweeping restrictions on the use of internet for purposes completely unrelated to the activities sought to be banned by the Act imposed severe and unwarranted restraints on constitutionally protected speech. More focused restrictions that are narrowly tailored to address the specific conduct sought to be proscribed should be pursued."

"We take the safety and security of our users, especially the many young people on Facebook, very seriously," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "We have consistently supported bills that criminalize usage of social networking sites by registered sex offenders. Our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities already bars these individuals from using Facebook and we would welcome the potential of criminal penalties to strengthen these provisions."

The ACLU of Louisiana filed the lawsuit challenging the law in August on behalf of two sex offenders, identified only as John Doe and James Doe in court filings. The organization argued the terms used in the law barred sex offenders from browsing any website that allows users to create profiles about themselves or that has chat rooms, instant messaging, and e-mail.

The attorney general's office meanwhile defended the statute, and said it would appeal Jackson's ruling. Lawmakers, backed by Governor Bobby Jindal, insisted said the law was designed to keep sex offenders from preying on children in online forums, including Facebook.

"Louisiana families should have the comfort of knowing their children are able to go online without the threat of sex predators," Jindal said in a statement. "It's offensive that the Court would rule that the rights of sex predators are more important than the rights of innocent children. As the father of three young kids, I will do everything in our power to protect Louisiana families and that includes appealing to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and bringing legislation this upcoming session to fortify and strengthen the law. The Internet is the virtual playground where sex offenders are trying to strike and prey on our kids. We must have the tools to crack down on monsters that are preying on our kids. If these predators want to search the internet for a victim, they won't be able to do it in the State of Louisiana."

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