When someone is caught, charged and prosecuted as a sex offender, they lose a great many rights they once had. Depending on the state, they have to register themselves as an offender, alert their neighbors and even keep a safe distance from any public place where children congregate. It’s likely a majority of Americans feel that these restrictions are warranted and even wise, but now some sex offenders are fighting against rulings that ban them from using social networking sites, such as Facebook.
Claiming free speech rights, these sex offenders are challenging the rulings that prevent them from using certain sites and services on the internet: Sites and services which could allow them an avenue to commit the same crimes all over again.
For their part, Facebook and LinkedIn have gone on record by altering their policies to show their support of these kinds of bans against sex offenders.
According to the Chicago Tribune, several sex offenders in Indiana, Nebraska and Louisiana have been able to successfully challenge these rulings, arguing that the use of social networking and other online discussions is a part of their human rights to free speech. Many authorities are in support of the bans, saying they are necessary to keep children safe from these predators when they are online. Often, these children can be online without their parent’s knowledge, making the restrictions all the more important.
In Indiana, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is heading the fight on behalf of a man who has served a 3 year sentence for child exploitation, as well as other registered sex offenders who are out on probation but are still affected by the ban.
Thursday, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the Indianapolis U.S. District Court questioned attorneys about sex criminals’ rights, and whether denying them access to Facebook and other sites like it infringe on their free speech.
Attorney for the ACLU Ken Falk argued the 4-year old law was meant to protect children, but instead it is stopping these registered sex criminals from expressing their political and religious views on websites which allow you to leave comments via your Facebook login.
According to the Associated Press, Falk believes this law violates the rights of communication, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Falk also argued that the ban is unnecessary in the state of Indiana, saying there is already another law which makes using the internet to contact a child for sexual purposes a crime.
Indiana Deputy Attorney General David Arthur argued that the 2008 ban is limited to social networking sites, and therefore doesn’t stop a sexual criminal from communicating with a child in some other way.
“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 extend to email or message boards.
“It’s not enough to say that the plaintiffs can still write letters or go to meetings,” Falk said, claiming it’s unfair to insist the criminals not be allowed the privilege of online communication.
“These are not adequate alternatives for instant communication.”