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Appeal vowed on Facebook ban

A national civil rights group said Sunday it would appeal a federal judge's decision to uphold an Indiana law that bans registered sex offenders from accessing Facebook and other social networking sites used by children.

Friday, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt said in an 18-page order that the state has a strong interest in protecting children and that the rest of the Internet remains open to those who have been convicted.

"Social networking, chat rooms and instant messaging programs have effectively created a 'virtual playground' for sexual predators to lurk," Pratt wrote in the ruling, citing a 2006 report by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that found that one in seven youths had received online sexual solicitations and one in three had been exposed to unwanted sexual material online.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the class-action suit on behalf of a man who served three years for child exploitation, along with other sex offenders who are restricted by the ban even though they are no longer on probation. Federal judges have barred similar laws in Nebraska and Louisiana.

"We will be appealing," ACLU legal director Ken Falk said in an email Sunday to the Associated Press. Appeals from federal courts in Indiana go to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Courts have long allowed states to place restrictions on convicted sex offenders who have completed their sentences, controlling where many live and work and requiring them to register with police. But the ACLU claimed that Indiana's social networking ban was far broader, restricting a wide swath of constitutionally protected activities.

The ACLU contended that even though the 2008 law is only intended to protect children from online sexual predators, social media are virtually indispensable and the ban prevents sex offenders from using the websites for political, business and religious activities.