Louisiana has passed a bill that would add a proverbial scarlet letter to sex offenders and child predators who wish to join Facebook, Twitter, or any other social networking site. The bill, a first of it’s kind, would mandate that all registered sex offenders or child predators add a disclaimer-like notice to their online profiles. The bill states that those that fall into the sex offender or child predator categories must include in their profile, “an indication that he is a sex offender or child predator and shall include notice of the crime for which he was convicted, the jurisdiction of conviction, a description of his physical characteristics… and his residential address.”
The new law is an extension of the already strict sex offender laws that require individuals on the registry to alert schools and neighbors of their status on the sex offender registry. Violators of the new law could face imprisonment and hard labor for a term between two and ten years as well as a $1,000 fine. A second conviction carries a term of between five and twenty years.
Facebook’s current policy is to not let any registered sex offender on the popular social networking site at all. Facebook’s policy states: “Convicted sex offenders are prohibited from using Facebook. Once we are able to verify a user’s status as a sex offender, we immediately disable their account and remove their account and all information associated with it.” But this law is designed to cover any possible loopholes in the website’s policy, in addition to providing criminal penalties for those who attempt to circumvent the policy.
The law may run into Constitutional problems, however. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union based in Louisiana had fought a state law that attempted to ban sex offenders’ use of the Internet. Limiting specific usage of certain webpages may be so broad as to be unconstitutionally vague or violative of the Equal Protection clause, the ACLU argues.
Opponents of the bill also point to the inconsistentcy and broadness of who must decalre their prior offenses. For instance, public urination, changing clothes on a beach, or other relatively modest crimes may require an individual to declare the criminal conviction. Restricting these individuals may cause them great harm without providing any real benefit in terms of the harm sought to be prevented. Pennsylvania does not currently have a law prohibiting Pennsylvania sex offenders from using facebook or twitter, though those who are currently on probation or parole generally must abide by a condition that they not use the internet at all.
Regardless, as social networking sites, such as Facebook grow and become a crucial mode of communication for many, more and more legislatures across the United States are likely to take a hard look at laws effecting internet usage across the board, especially as the fanfare of these websites attracts younger crowds. For more information about Pennsylvania Sex Crimes in general click this link.