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Does Free Speech Mean Facebook Access For Sex Offenders?

Maybe. With a few successes throughout the United States, some registered sex offenders are fighting for access to Facebook claiming that restrictions against using social media websites and participating in online discussion forums is a violation of rights protected by the First Amendment. There is a fine balance between protecting children from online exploitation and walking all over another person's Constitutional rights after a sex offense conviction.

The consequences of a sex offense conviction can far outlast the actual sentence itself. In North Carolina, a convicted sex offender can expect restrictions on where he or she can live and work as well as his or her access to the internet. It's not uncommon for a convicted sex offender to be prohibited from joining any kind of social network or making use of online chat rooms or instant messaging systems.

But civil liberties advocates challenge the restrictions on social networking, calling the prohibitions unconstitutional attacks on speech rights. With more and more communication taking place online, some courts are agreeing. Nebraska and Louisiana have had laws limiting a convicted sex offender's online access thrown out. An Indiana court is currently reviewing restrictions in that state.

'John Doe,' the plaintiff in the Indiana case, was released from prison in 2003 after serving his sentence for a conviction on two counts of sexual exploitation. He is arguing that he cannot meaningfully participate in debates on political issues because without a Facebook account he cannot comment on online news stories. He is unable to take advantage of the business networking opportunities on LinkedIn and is unable to communicate with family outside of Indiana who use Facebook to keep in touch.

According to Kevin Falk, legal director of the ACLU in Indiana, ""To broadly prohibit such a large group of persons from ever using these modern forms of communication is just something the First Amendment cannot tolerate."

Source: Digtriad, "Should Sex Offenders Be Allowed To Use Facebook?" May 31, 2012

1 Comment

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