U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds Social Networking Rights

The “blanket ban on social media” does not meet the requirement to narrowly tailor laws that implicate the First Amendment, says three-judge panel

January 23, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

Indianapolis – The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled today that an Indiana law that bans a large percentage of people on Indiana’s sex offender registry from using social media is unconstitutional. The ruling in the class action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana overturns a lower court decision and provides strong guidance to lawmakers on the crafting of laws affecting the First Amendment.

“There is no doubt that the State has a paramount interest in protecting children,” said ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk, the attorney. “But the Court properly recognized that the State cannot do this with a law so broad that it prevents someone convicted of an offense years, or even decades ago, from engaging in a host of innocent communications via social media. Indiana already has a law that prohibits inappropriate communication with children, and the law in this case served no purpose but to prohibit communication protected by the First Amendment.”

The statute (Indiana Code 35-42-4-12) is so broad that rather than protecting children, which existing laws already do, it had the effect of preventing people seeking jobs from posting their resumes on LinkedIn, or commenting on news sites, or following the activities of a political campaign or religious leaders such as Pope Benedict XVI.

In overturning the May 2012 ruling by U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, the Seventh Circuit ordered that an injunction be issued on behalf of the ACLU of Indiana’s client, John Doe, which will affect thousands across Indiana who are listed on the registry. Last August, in another case brought by the ACLU of Indiana, the Court ruled that the state’s sex offender registry process was “constitutionally insufficient” because the State did not provide a means for people to challenge its accuracy.

ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Jane Henegar said lawmakers need to heed the Constitution when crafting laws: “Enacting laws to govern our society, including protecting our children, is an awesome responsibility that requires our lawmakers balance our need for order with our need for liberty. In this instance, the State of Indiana overstepped and unnecessarily burdened one of our most important rights, the freedom to share and receive information and ideas.”

The decision, John Doe v. Prosecutor, Marion County, Indiana, is entered in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, No. 12-2512.

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