The ACLU of Louisiana filed suit today to block the enforcement of a new state law that bans access to a wide array of websites for those convicted of certain sex offenses against minors.
Prohibiting access to social networking websites, chat rooms, and peer-to-peer networks, the law's definitions are so broad as to restrict access to newspaper sites, job databases, web-commerce sites, and anything else in which a user might read or post comments, said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman.
"For the government to ban access to virtually all information on the Internet is overreaching, and opens the door to further government intrusion on everyone's First Amendment rights," Esman said. "The government may not infringe Constitutional rights without clearly defining what is prohibited and without a compelling reason. This law has neither, and is therefore unconstitutional."
For example, one provision of the law prohibits access to any website that "offers a mechanism for communication among users, such as a forum, chat room, electronic mail, or instant messaging." This means those subject to the ban may not visit any site, such as a newspaper website, in which other users can post comments. Nor may they have a web-based email account even to communicate with family members, Esman said.
While the statute provides for exceptions with permission of the judge or parole officer, there are no standards for the granting of permission and no procedural mechanism by which permission may be obtained.
"Everyone wants to protect children from those who would do them harm," Esman said. "Reasonable restrictions to prevent future crimes are appropriate in the interest of public safety. However, banning access to all sorts of online information, without any connection to a crime or access to children, is using a bulldozer where a trowel would do."
The ACLU's lawsuit maintains:
The suit seeks an immediate order banning enforcement of the statute, La. R.S. §14:91.5, while the court can determine its legality.
A copy of the ACLU's lawsuit is available here.