June 21, 2012 at 2:42 PM ET
"Now that we are in the digital age, people get access to us not just by living near us," Louisiana State Representative Jeff Thompson explained when I asked him about a law he'd authored recently. The law forces registered sex offenders to identify themselves — and explain the nature of their crimes — on social networks. A $1,000 fine and at least two years of prison (with hard labor) await those who fail to comply.
Thompson's law will be effective Aug. 1, and is basically an addition to existing sex offender notification laws. Under current law, Thompson pointed out, sex offenders are required to give notice to certain individuals and organizations based on their geographic proximity. (For example, they have to notify those who reside near them, the local school district, local parks, and other places where there may be children.)
The new law additions stipulate that any registered sex offender, "who is otherwise not prohibited from using a networking website, and who creates a profile or uses the functionality of a networking website to contact or attempt to contact other networking website users shall include in his profile for the networking website an indication that he is a sex offender or child predator and shall include notice of the crime for which he was convicted, the jurisdiction of confiction, a description of his physical characteristics as required by [the relevant laws], and his residential address." This information must be made visible to users and visitors of the site.
While discussing the law with me, Thompson emphasized that it is simply a way of bringing existing laws up to date with current technology. The information sex offenders will have to provide on social networks matches the details which are printed in local papers upon conviction.
For that reason, the penalties are equal. Failure to comply with the law leads to a $1,000 fine and at least two — but no more than ten — years of inprisonment (with hard labor). A second violation would bring a $3,000 fine and at least five — but no more than twenty — years of inprisonment (with hard labor).
"It may not be the perfect solution," Thompson acknowledges, but says he has a responsibility to his constituents. And this is theoretically more reasonable than attempting to ban some folks from the Internet entirely.
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