Sex Offender Access to Social Media Upheld in KY

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Kentucky’s registered sex offenders have the constitutional right to use Facebook, Twitter and other online social media under a new federal court decision, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. The ruling came in a lawsuit by a Lexington child pornography defendant identified only as John Doe. Scott White, who represented Doe, said the laws that were challenged “effectively deprived anyone on the sex offender registry of access to the most effective forms of communication that we have today. It was a complete suppression of speech.” Kentucky prohibited sex offenders from using social networking websites or instant messaging or chat rooms that potentially could be “accessible” to children — which is to say, much of the internet. A second law required sex offenders to keep their probation or parole officers updated on all of their email addresses and online identities.

Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a North Carolina ban on social media for sex offenders, in part because so many civic institutions are tied into social media. The Herald-Leader’s website would be off-limits to sex offenders under the state’s ban because it has a comments section open to the public, Van Tatenhove said. Kentucky’s law “burdens substantially more speech than necessary to further the commonwealth’s legitimate interests in protecting children from sexual abuse solicited via the Internet,” Van Tatenhove wrote. “Indeed, rather than prohibiting a certain type of conduct that is narrowly tailored to prevent child abuse, the statute prevents Mr. Doe and others similarly situated from accessing what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge.”

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