UPDATE: Social networking ban for NC sex offenders remains in effect
RALEIGH - A 2008 law making it a felony for registered sex offenders to use social media websites in North Carolina was struck down Tuesday after a challenge by a Durham man.
[name withheld], a registered sex offender from Durham, appealed to the state after being convicted in May 2012 of accessing a commercial social networking website. [name withheld] alleged that North Carolina General Statute 14-202.5 violated his rights to "free speech, expression, association, assembly and the press under the First and Fourteenth Amendments."
He also alleged that the law was vague and not narrowly tailored to achieve a legitimate government interest.
In its decision issued Tuesday morning, the North Carolina Court of Appeals agreed with [name withheld] and struck down the law (PDF) based on its constitutionality.
The law "is not narrowly tailored, is vague, and fails to target the 'evil' it is intended to rectify," the court said in its 21-page opinion. "Instead, it arbitrarily burdens all registered sex offenders by preventing a wide range of communication and expressive activity unrelated to achieving its purported goal."
According to the court, the law's application is too broad because it treats all sex offenders the same regardless of the offense committed, the victim's age or whether a computer was used to facilitate or commit the offense. [name withheld] was convicted in 2002 for taking indecent liberties with a child, and he was one of 11 people indicted in Durham County in November 2010 for accessing social media sites.
"The application of this statute is neither conditional upon showing that the offender previously used a social networking website to target children, nor does it require a showing that the offender is a current threat to minors," the court said.
The court said the law fails to give people fair notice of what is prohibited and doesn't specify the difference between mainstream social media sites such as Facebook, where children may be members, from other sites that include a social media arm, such as Google or Amazon.
"The statute prohibits a registered sex offender whose conviction is unrelated to sexual activity involving a minor from accessing a multitude of websites that, in all likelihood, are not frequented by minors," the decision read.
Passed in 2008 as part of the "Protect Children from Sexual Predators (PDF)" act, the law was backed by Attorney General Roy Cooper, who has been an outspoken voice against predators who find victims on the Internet.