(Chicago, Ill.) - An Indiana law banning sex offenders from accessing Facebook, Twitter, or other social media websites has been ruled unconstitutional.
On Wednesday, the 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Chicago overturned a lower court’s decision to uphold the law. The court said the law approved by state lawmakers in 2008 “broadly prohibits substantial protected speech rather than specifically targeting the evil of improper communications to minors.”
“The goal of deterrence does not license the state to restrict far more speech than necessary to target the prospective harm,” Judge Joel M. Flaum wrote in the court’s decision.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit a couple years ago on behalf of a man – identified in the suit only as “John Doe” – with a past conviction for child exploitation. He was still restricted by the social media ban despite being out of prison and off probation.
"There is no doubt that the State has a paramount interest in protecting children," said ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk, the attorney in the case. "But the Court properly recognized that the State cannot do this with a law so broad that it prevents someone convicted of an offense years, or even decades ago, from engaging in a host of innocent communications via social media. Indiana already has a law that prohibits inappropriate communication with children, and the law in this case served no purpose but to prohibit communication protected by the First Amendment."
The ACLU of Indiana argued that the law didn’t protect children, which there are already laws in place for, but sex offenders were prevented from seeking jobs by posting resumes on LinkedIn, commenting on news websites, or following political campaigns or religious leaders on Twitter.
The appeals court decision reverses a ruling made last May by Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana. Pratt opined 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."
Similar laws in Nebraska and Louisiana have also been overturned by federal courts.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller told the Associated Press said his office would review the ruling before deciding on the next step.