Louisiana is taking a second stab at trying to keep registered sex offenders off social media websites.
A federal judge declared a previous state law with a similar aim an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and the Fourteenth Amendment rights of equal protection under the law and due process.
That first law was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union as being overly broad. It would have banned sex offenders not only from social networking sites but also from newspaper sites, job search sites, e-tail shopping sites and other Internet addresses that children would be less inclined to access than Facebook and Twitter.
The new legislation more narrowly targets sites that allow for the posting of photos and personal profiles and for “facilitating social interaction with other users of the site.”
So, the bill might be challenged again because that description doesn’t exempt a site like LinkedIn, for example. LinkedIn is a website full of personal information posted for the purpose of making professional connections that might lead to jobs.
The only people to whom the amended bill will apply are people convicted of sex offenses against minors or video voyeurism.
The punishment outlined in the bill is steep – up to 10 years with no suspension or early release possible and a fine of up to $10,000. A repeat violation will mean a minimum of five years and up to 20 years in prison with no suspension of sentence and a maximum fine of $20,000.
It was amended to refer to “intentional use” of the websites instead of merely “using or accessing” them. That makes sense. It is possible to stumble onto a website by mistyping the URL of the site you really wanted.
The Louisiana House passed the rewritten measure May 15 on a 93-0 vote. It had already been approved by the Louisiana Senate.
Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Baton Rouge) is expected to sign it.
Perhaps the urgency felt by State Rep. Ledricka Thierry (D-Opelousas) in sponsoring this bill can be illustrated by an unrelated situation in this state.
A teacher at a Murfreesboro middle school recently was arrested after being accused of soliciting a 12-year old girl for sex through communications on her Facebook account.
Police say that, unbeknownst to the teacher, law enforcement officials were on the other end of the communique instead of the girl.
This is another potential fender-bender at the intersection of individual freedom and the need to protect the innocent.
The old stereotype of pedophiles as wackos in raincoats whispering, “Hey, little girl. Want some candy?," doesn’t fly anymore.
They’re sophisticated, devious and clued in to how today’s teens really think and talk.
But, while it’s widely believed that sex offenders are incapable of being rehabilitated, that is irrelevant to the protection of the First Amendment, which, while not absolute, is essential to everything that we hold dear in a democracy.
There is no constitutional prohibition on parental supervision of their children’s Internet activity. For now, perhaps that is the best safeguard of all.