No ruling yet in bid to overturn Facebook ban

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) ? A federal judge called a Louisiana law that bans certain sex offenders from Facebook and other social networking sites a “constitutionally problematic” statute, but he didn’t decide Wednesday whether to throw out the prohibition that took effect in August.

U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson, based in Baton Rouge, heard arguments from a lawyer representing two convicted sex offenders who are seeking to overturn the law, and from the attorney general’s office defending the statute.

The judge said he’ll make a ruling after final arguments are filed by Nov. 23.

Lawmakers, backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, passed the ban earlier this year, saying it was designed to keep sex offenders from preying on children in online forums.

The law, sponsored by Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, makes it a crime for those convicted of a sex offense against a minor or video voyeurism to use networking websites, chat rooms and peer-to-peer networks.

Probation and parole officers and judges can make exceptions.

The ACLU of Louisiana says the law is too broad and violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“The statute does operate to ban the entire Internet,” said Justin Harrison, with the ACLU.

Harrison said the terms used in the law ban the sex offenders from browsing any website that allows users to create profiles about themselves or that has chat rooms, instant messaging and e-mail. Harrison said that sweeps in everything from news websites to job search sites and the official Louisiana hurricane preparedness website.

Jackson noted the statute would appear to ban them from using the federal court website.

The two sex offenders identified in the lawsuit as John Doe and James Doe will be limited from jobs and from their ability to remain productive, contributing members of society, Harrison said. They are pursuing the civil suit against state officials and their local district attorneys.

Kurt Wall, with the attorney general’s office, said the state corrections secretary issued a regulation last month to clarify that it was not designed to include a prohibition on news sites, but places like Facebook and MySpace.

The judge, however, said that only covers the probation and parole officers under the corrections department, not district attorneys who could choose to prosecute people under the ban for wider Internet usage.

“Unchecked, the statute in its current form is constitutionally problematic,” Jackson said.

Wall also argued the law shouldn’t be challenged until someone is prosecuted under it or encounters the types of problems the ACLU described as possible. He said no one has even attempted to get the waiver allowed in the law.

“Don’t strike this statute down purely on hypotheticals or speculation,” Wall said.

Conviction of the crime of unlawful use or access of social media carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years. A second conviction requires a prison sentence of at least five years and up to 20 years.

One person in East Baton Rouge Parish has been charged with violating the new law, Wall said, but the case hasn’t been prosecuted yet.