Can the Law Keep Facebook Safe from Sex Offenders?

A federal judge in Indiana has said a decision on the constitutionality on a law that bans registered sex offenders from using social networking websites will come within the next month. Social networks such as Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Twitter, and LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) have taken steps to block these offenders in order to stop them from preying on children.

Convicted sex offenders have faced restrictions that are sanctioned by courts even after completing their sentences, but a social network regulation is a completely untested issue. Federal judges in two states have already thrown out parts of the law that they thought were too strict. Nebraska made a decision to allow sex offenders to join social networks, while Louisiana will let them use the Internet for shopping, reading news, and exchanging email. The Indiana case is the one under review.

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“It’s going to be really, really hard, I think, to write something that will achieve the state’s purpose in protecting children online but not be restrictive enough to be unconstitutional,” Carolyn Atwell-Davis, director of legislative affairs at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, told the Associated Press.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which is challenging the 2008 law in court, it is unconstitutional to bar sex offenders who are no longer in prison or on probation because it goes against their First Amendment rights. It argues that the law takes away necessary modes of communication. Prosecutors argue that social networking sites aren’t the only forms of communication.

Ruthann Robson, a constitutional law professor at the City University of New York, said the bans could eventually be taken up by the Supreme Court.

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