Indiana bills target online safety

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Indiana could put laws in place that will help keep sexual predators away from children using social media sites like Facebook. The effort also focuses on people bullying or intimidating others on those sites.

Indiana is trying to keep pace with the very changing world of technology, and the state is finding out it is not easy.

With over 13,000 Twitter followers, Amy Stark works and plays on the internet. In doing so, she has evolved as a voice of social media. She knows the good that can come from it and she knows the bad.

"It scares me half to death, as a parent," she said.

With a teenage daughter she is concerned about who she might be communicating with online. Recent social media cons like the one involving Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o has gone a long way in educating kids about who they are communicating with.

"You never know who is on the other end. They could be anyone," said Stark.

State lawmakers are trying to eliminate the possibility of convicted sexual offenders taking part. The US Court of Appeals recently struck down Indiana law forbidding registered sex offenders from using social media as a first amendment violation. Lawmakers are now narrowing its scope.

"A person who has been convicted of those offenses could not use a social media site knowingly or intentionally to contact someone who is less than 16 years of age," said Sen. Randy Head (R-Logansport).

"I think good luck with that. There are so many ways to disguise where your computer is or who you are," said Stark. "This is going to be a very difficult thing for the state to do. It will be hard to find them and hard to regulate that."

Stark says it would be better if we taught internet safety skills to our children in grades K-6.

The amended version applies only to offenders convicted of child-related sex crimes who knowingly use social networks, instant messaging or chat rooms to communicate with children below age 16.

Violators could face a year or more in jail.

Constitutional law professor Ruth Robson at the City University of New York said last week that the new version would ban sex offenders from sites like Facebook even if they didn't try to use it to contact a child.

Indiana Public Defender Council Executive Director Larry Landis says the bill mistakenly focuses on which sex offenders are covered rather than how much speech is restricted.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana fought the 2008 measure for a man who served three years for child molestation and other sex offenders no longer on probation.

Full text of the bill:

Sex offenders and social media. Provides that a person who has been convicted of: (1) child molesting as a Class A felony; or (2) child solicitation; commits a sex offender Internet offense if the person knowingly or intentionally uses a social networking web site or an instant messaging or chat room program and knows that persons less than 18 years of age are allowed to access or use the social networking web site or instant messaging or chat room program. Specifies that an offender against children who knowingly or intentionally uses a social networking web site or an instant messaging or chat room program to communicate with a child less than 16 years of age without the permission of the child's parent or guardian commits a sex offender Internet offense. Provides that a sex offender Internet offense is a Class A misdemeanor or, if the person has a prior unrelated conviction of a sex offender Internet offense, a Class D felony. Establishes certain defenses.

A second bill that toughens Indiana law for social media threats to hospitals and schools and the like also passed out of committee Tuesday.