An Indiana law barring registered sex offenders from using any form of social media has been stuck down by a U.S. appeals court.
The law was challenged last year by the ACLU, but upheld by an Indiana Judge.
“The Court readily concedes that social networking is a prominent feature of modern-day society; however, communication does not begin with a ‘Facebook wall post’ and end with a ’140-character Tweet,’” wrote Judge Tanya Pratt in her decision.
It was the ACLU’s contention that the law was overbroad, as it prohibited people from engaging in lawful activities on the internet. To ban such a large group of people from participating in communications that are integral to functioning in a modern society was “something the First Amendment cannot tolerate,” they said.
“The statute (Indiana Code 35-42-4-12) is so broad that rather than protecting children, which existing laws already do, it had the effect of preventing people seeking jobs from posting their resumes on LinkedIn, or commenting on news sites, or following the activities of a political campaign or religious leaders such as Pope Benedict XVI,” added the ACLU.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, saying that “the goal of deterrence does not license the state to restrict far more speech than necessary to target the prospective harm.” This decision officially overturns Judge Pratt’s ruling from June of last year.
The ACLU of Indiana’s Legal Director Ken Falk rejoiced in the decision:
“There is no doubt that the State has a paramount interest in protecting children. 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.”
This is not the first time that a law of this type has been deemed unlawful. A similar law in Louisiana was deemed “unconstitutionally overbroad” by an appeals judge. In his ruling, he stated that any law banning internet communications “unreasonably restricts many ordinary activities that have become important to everyday life in today’s world.”