Sex Offender Challenges State’s Internet Law


     BATON ROUGE (CN) – Louisiana enacted an unconstitutional law that makes it a felony for sex offenders of minors to read anything at all online, including help wanted ads and The New York Times, a sex offender says in a federal complaint.



     John Doe sued Gov. Bobby Jindal, who signed the law on June 14, and Attorney General James Caldwell.
     Doe was convicted of possession of child pornography and spent 4 years in prison. He says he does not challenge the state’s attempt to bar sex offenders from pornographic websites, but that criminalizing the reading of nonpornographic websites, and social media, is unconstitutional.
     “On June 14, 2011, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law La R.S. §14:91.5, creating the offense of ‘unlawful use or access of social media,'” Doe says. The law bars Doe and others like him “from ‘using’ or ‘accessing’ ‘social networking websites,’ ‘chat rooms’ and ‘peer-to-peer networks,'” the complaint states.
     It adds: “The statute will ban affected registrants from likely targets Facebook and
     MySpace. However, it will also make it a felony for registrants to browse the rest of the Internet, severely curtailing their First Amendment freedoms in ways that bear no relation to the state’s legitimate pursuit of public safety.”
     The law, which took effect Monday, Aug. 15, criminalizes Internet browsing by registered sex offenders who have been or will be convicted of sex offenses involving minors, including computer-aided solicitation of a minor, indecent behavior with juveniles and viewing child porn, the complaint states. It bars them from “using” or “accessing” “social networking websites,” “chat rooms” and “peer-to-peer networks.”
     “However, the statute does not define ‘use,’ ‘access’ or other included terms, and defines ‘social networking website,’ ‘chatroom’ and ‘peer-to-peer network’ so broadly as to render unlawful virtually all internet access by registrants,” according to the complaint.
     Among the websites that affected registrants will not be allowed to access are CNN.com, FoxNews.com, ESPN, BBC or Reuters, NYTimes.com, Politico.com, Newsweek, The Economist, The New Republic, YouTube and National Geographic, “because they – along with virtually every other news website – ‘offer a mechanism for communication among users’ in the form of comments and content forwarding,” the complaint states.
     The law also bars them from browsing “Getagameplan.org – Louisiana’s official hurricane preparedness website, because it permits ‘communication among users’ in the form of emails, tweets and instant messages that warn of impending storms;”
     it bars them from “Twitter, Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, Comcast and AOL, because, in the language of §14:91.5, they too ‘Offer a mechanism for communication among users, such as a forum, chat room, electronic mail, or instant messaging’;”
     it bars them from “Hotjobs.com, Careerbuilder.com, LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed.com and even USAJOBS.gov – the federal government’s own employment database – because such websites not only allow users to communicate via text, they also ‘Allow users to create web pages or profiles about themselves that are available to the general public or to any other users’;”
     and it bars them from “Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, Zagat, Urbanspoon, Yelp, Consumerist, or any other website that allows user reviews of products, restaurants,
     movies, books or music.”
     Does says the law “does incorporate a clause that will allow plaintiff to seek an exception to the statute’s proscriptions; however, that exception clause is vague and ultimately meaningless. It reads:
     “‘§14:91.5(B): The use or access of social media shall not be considered unlawful for purposes of this Section if the offender has permission to use or access social networking websites, chat rooms, or peer-to-peer networks from his probation or parole officer or the court of original jurisdiction.’
     “As written, the exception clause sets forth no procedure for obtaining permission from one’s probation or parole officer or from the court of original jurisdiction. Furthermore, it provides no standards by which parole or probation officers must abide in granting exceptions, leaving open the possibility of purely arbitrary decision-making.”
     Doe says the statute violates the First and 14th Amendments. He wants it enjoined, and nominal damages.
     He is represented by Justin Harrison with the ACLU in New Orleans.

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