- DOJ reaches largest-ever federal government settlement over auto loan discrimination
- U.S. Navy to start giving gay couples marriage benefits in Japan
- Sen. Harry Reid goes to hospital as a precaution
- Fla.’s Trey Radel exits rehab, ‘excited’ to resume congressional role
- U.S. nuclear general boozed it up, chased ‘hot women’ in Russia: report
- 45 Calif. students at one school test positive for tuberculosis exposure
- Rob Ford on women: Give them cash ‘and they are happy’
- Ku Klux Klan group holds recruitment meeting in Maryland
- Airport assassination: Mayor, 3 others killed at Manila airport
- Tea party-type lawmakers take mysterious, off-books trip to Mideast
Sex offenders fight for right to use Facebook
Question of the Day
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Registered sex offenders who have been banned from social networking websites are fighting back in the nation’s courts, successfully challenging many of the restrictions as infringements on free speech and their right to participate in common online discussions.
The legal battles pit public outrage over sex crimes against cherished guarantees of individual freedom and the far-reaching communication changes brought by Facebook, LinkedIn and dozens of other sites.
“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,” said Carolyn Atwell-Davis, director of legislative affairs at the Virginia-based National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Courts have long allowed states to place restrictions on convicted sex offenders who have completed their sentences, controlling where many of them live and work and requiring them to register with police. But the increasing use of social networks for everyday communication raises new, untested issues.
The bans generally forbid offenders to join social networks or chat rooms or use instant-messaging programs _ just a few of the online tools that civil liberties advocates say have become virtually indispensable to free speech.
After hearing challenges, federal judges in two states threw out laws or parts of laws that they deemed too stringent. In Nebraska, the decision allowed sex offenders to join social networks. And in Louisiana, a new law lets offenders use the Internet for shopping, reading news and exchanging email. A case filed against Indiana’s law is under review.
Authorities insist the bans address a real problem: the need to protect children from pedophiles who prowl online hangouts visited by kids.
“It’s hard to come up with an example of a sexual predator who doesn’t use some form of social networking anymore,” said Steve DeBrota, an assistant U.S. attorney in Indianapolis who prosecutes child sex crimes.
Ruthann Robson, a professor of constitutional law at the City University of New York, said the bans could eventually be taken up by the Supreme Court if the justices decide there’s a constitutional question.
“If we think that the government can curtail sex offenders’ rights without any connection to the actual crime, then it could become a blanket prohibition against anyone who is accused of a crime, no matter what the crime is,” Robson said.
Supporters of the bans say they target repeat offenders such as a Maryland man charged with extorting a 16-year-old girl Indiana girl to perform sexual acts during video chats. He was free on bond when he was accused of doing the same thing to more underage girls.
Trevor J. Shea, 21, of Mechanicsville, Md., was sentenced to 33 years in federal prison in January after pleading guilty to seven counts of production of child pornography.
Xavier Von Erck, founder of Perverted Justice Inc., a group devoted to exposing online sexual predators, said it doesn’t make sense for judges to let pedophiles troll the Web for more victims but revoke the voting rights of people convicted of lesser crimes. He called that “judicial hypocrisy.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which is challenging Indiana’s 2008 law, argues that it’s unconstitutional to bar sex offenders who are no longer in prison or on probation from using basic online services.
“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,” said Ken Falk, legal director of Indiana’s ACLU chapter.
By Michael P. Orsi
Edward Snowden should declare his patriotism in court
- Huge backlash mounts over suspension of 'Duck Dynasty' star Phil Robertson
- D.C. to tout Obamacare among youth waiting for Air Jordans
- Dems use new filibuster rules to approve DHS nominee Alejandro Mayorkas under investigation
- TARGET credit card theft swells to 40 million victims
- Obamacare 'pajamas boy' gets roundly mocked
- Special ops vets slam military benefit cuts
- Deportations under Obama plunged to just 1 percent last year
- Homeland Security helps smuggle illegal immigrant children into the U.S.
- Citing 'unfair system,' Obama commutes sentences for 8 crack offenders
- EDITORIAL: Red faces at the White House
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
Politics, economics, and business from a real world perspective.
Consummate traveler Todd DeFeo explores the unique stories that make destinations worth going to.
Top 10 handguns in the U.S.
Extraordinary day at Redskins Park
White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow