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Louisiana lawmakers seek social media restrictions for convicts

The Internet offers a wealth of opportunities for communication, learning and entertainment. However, if lawmakers get their way, some people will face severe restrictions when it comes to Internet access. Currently, two bills are being considered in the Louisiana House and Senate that would limit the use of the Internet for certain individuals, specifically sex offenders and prison inmates.

HB55 would create the crime of unlawful use of or access to social media. In this bill, sex offenders, particularly those who have been convicted of sex crimes involving minors, would be prevented from accessing social media such as Facebook or MySpace, as well as using chat rooms or peer-to-peer networks. This bill targets known sex offenders by advertising that it will shield children from known sex offenders who may attempt to solicit victims online.

This bill was unanimously approved in the House and has been sent to the Senate for debate.

The other bill, SB182, focuses on inmates currently serving time behind bars. In this bill, inmates would be banned from using the Internet to develop social networking sites to connect with people on the outside, participate in scams, threaten witnesses, request contraband or exchange pornographic images.

Currently, corrections officers closely monitor calls in and out of prisons, letters to the outside and Internet usage. However, supporters of this bill complain that inmates get people on the outside to set up social networking sites for them. While this particular bill would not penalize anyone on the outside for setting up such a site, it would have consequences for inmates that instigate such an act.

This bill passed the Senate 31-1. It is now scheduled to be considered in the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee.

Because both of these bills would impact a significant number of individuals in Louisiana, many people are closely following their fates. We will likely hear more about this in the weeks and months to come.

Source: Daily World, "Bills could ban convicts' use of social media," Mike Hasten, 21 May 2011

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