We saw this coming, but a 2011 law banning registered sex offenders from accessing social media and other internet sites fell victim to a legal challenge last week. Judge Brian Jackson of the Middle District of Louisiana, an Obama appointee, ruled that the statute was overbroad and violated the First Amendment.
Jackson’s ruling contained a clue that a better-drafted law could pass future muster…
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. 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.
When the ACLU filed the suit in question on behalf of a couple of sexual predators last August, we noted it was a mistake to attempt such a sweeping ban on what’s essentially a part of daily life for what is admittedly a suspect class of people…
Look, if somebody is a pervert as adjudged in a court of law and you want to stop them from using Facebook or whatever to engage in a furtherance of their perversions, I’m sure there are ways of doing that short of banning them from social media altogether. Almost everybody under 50 is using Facebook or Twitter or Craigslist or LinkedIn or something; I don’t know that you can rehabilitate someone back into society unless they have access to those sites. And if they use them to conduct business and not fulfill whatever desires we don’t even want to know about, it seems like that’s actually a good thing.
And I’m not sure how you can possibly enforce such a law. Our police have a LOT to do already without attempting to stop somebody who looked at kiddie porn at some point from buying Katy Perry tickets on Craigslist.
It’s great politics to say you protected the folks from sex predators, and I get that. But where law enforcement issues are concerned, I’m a lot more concerned with the alarming murder rate in Baton Rouge and New Orleans and the seeming inability or lack of will on the part of politicians from the local level all the way up to do something about it.
What we need are less laws prohibiting things and more enforcement of what remains.
Undoubtedly someone will take a second crack at a new Facebook ban for sexual predators in this year’s legislative session. To do so successfully, they’ll have to follow Jackson’s direction.
Even so, though, it’s going to be difficult to craft a statute which is effective in stopping child molesters and other perverts from using the internet to feed their proclivities. Facebook, for example, is attempting to protect its users through its own efforts but lacks the power to do so in a productive way…
“We take the safety and security of our users, especially the many young people on Facebook, very seriously. 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.”
Banning someone in the group in question from Facebook isn’t exactly going to stop them from creating a new profile and going right back to what they do. And putting criminal penalties in place for violating Facebook’s user agreement doesn’t sound like a great idea.
It might be that the only way to remedy the deficiencies in the state’s sex offender-internet usage statute is to require the people in question to use a specialized internet provider service which tracks and blocks their usage of more sensitive social media. Even that seems like a complicated project.
The Jindal administration, which backed the law in the first place, isn’t giving up. It issued this statement on Thursday…
“Louisiana families should have the comfort of knowing their children are able to go online without the threat of sex predators. 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.”