"Should sex offenders be allowed to use Facebook? Supreme Court will decide

"Jordan Rudner, Washington Correspondent 12/10/16

WASHINGTON — Like tens of thousands of other Texans on the sex offender registry, Andrew, who lives in Dallas, is legally barred from using the vast majority of social media websites, including Facebook and Snapchat.

Every state places different restrictions on the rights of convicted sex offenders, limiting where they’re allowed to live, travel and work. And several, including Texas, also severely limit the websites that sex offenders are allowed to visit.

But on Monday, lawyers argued before the Supreme Court that such blanket bans may be a violation of their right to free speech.

Andrew, who was arrested for possession of child pornography in 2004, spent 10 years in federal prison. He’s still on parole today, his keystrokes and clicks are constantly monitored, and he isn’t allowed to own a smartphone. He knows his story isn’t a particularly sympathetic one.

“My choice cost me everything," said Andrew, who agreed to discuss his case if he were referred to by his middle name only. "But it isn’t a sob story, it’s just a fact. I know I did this to myself.”

Since his arrest, Andrew’s wife has left him. Of his three children, only one will speak to him. He had to seek special permission from the court to activate a LinkedIn profile so that he could find another job, and he describes his boss as “probably my only friend.”

So he wishes he could rejoin Facebook, if only to temper his isolation. Unlike sex offenders, perpetrators of violence, kidnapping and even murder are still allowed on social media, he noted.

“I’ve been through treatment, I’ve paid my dues,” he said. “I’m no danger to anyone.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who co-signed a brief in support of the North Carolina law now before the Supreme Court, disagrees. In the brief, Paxton and 12 other attorneys general argued that laws restricting the use of social media by sex offenders is a “practical solution to a practical problem.”

“The problem is that social media is a dangerous place for children and that registered sex offenders disproportionately commit additional sex crimes online,” the brief read.

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