Saturday, February 18, 2012

Court strikes down Louisiana law banning social networking use by sex offenders

A federal court struck down a Lousisiana law that forbade certain sex offenders from accessing social networking websites after finding the statute to be "substantially overbroad." Doe v. Jindal, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19841 (M.D. La. 2012).

In 2011, Louisiana enacted a law titled "Unlawful use or access of social media" that made it illegal for registered sex offenders whose victim was a minor to use social networking, chat rooms, or peer-to-peer networking. However, if the offender obtains permission from their probation or parole officer, access to these sites would be allowed.

The plaintiffs argued that the law is overbroad and would have the effect of banning news websites, YouTube, Gmail, LinkedIn, USAJOBS, and others because they allow for communication through "comments and content forwarding." The state countered, arguing that the plaintiffs do not have standing because they have yet to seek permission to use the sites.

The court found that because of the self-censorship required of the plaintiffs, it has had a chilling effect on their First Amendment rights. The statute does not specify how permission will be granted or how offenders no longer under supervision will obtain permission, creating jurisdictional issues. While there is a "legitimate interest in protecting children from sex offenders online," the statute is "substantially overbroad" and unconstitutional.


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