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US state bars sex offenders from 'social networking sites'

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The state of Illinois has barred known sex offenders from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and just about any other website that gives you a digital account for communicating with others.

As reported by The Chicago Tribune, Illinois governor Pat Quinn has signed a new law that makes it a felony for registered sex offenders to "access or use a social networking website."

The statute defines a social networking site as "an Internet website containing profile web pages of the members of the website that include the names or nicknames of such members, photographs placed on the profile web pages by such members, or any other personal or personally identifying information about such members and links to other profile web pages on social networking websites of friends or associates of such members that can be accessed by other members or visitors to the website."

So, if you're an Illinois sex offender, it seems you can't even use a professional job-hunting site like LinkedIn - or a restaurant-review site like Yelp. Some have even argued that this bans the use of Google, which recently added public profiles, and Yahoo! and Amazon. But the statute seems to pinpoint sites whose profiles include a built-in comment engine.

"A social networking website provides members of or visitors to such website the ability to leave messages or comments on the profile web page that are visible to all or some visitors to the profile web page and may also include a form of electronic mail for members of the social networking website," it continues.

The new law takes effect on January 1.

Obviously, the legislation is intended to prevent known sex offenders from approaching new victims online. "The Internet has been more and more a mechanism for predators to reach out," said Illinois State Senator Bill Brady, one of the bill's sponsors. "The idea was, if the predator is supposed to be a registered sex offender, they should keep their Internet distance as well as their physical distance.

"The object is to protect innocent individuals on the Internet from sex offenders."

Yes, sites like MySpace and Facebook have been known to house countless registered sex offenders. And under pressure from states' attorneys general, the two sites have worked to cull such names from their rosters.

But surely, in his effort to land the Illinois governorship, Bill Brady has gone too far. Barring sex offenders from Facebook and MySpace is one thing. Barring them from vast swathes of the internet is quite another. Even a nonce has his rights. ®

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