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Appeals court strikes down Indiana sex offender law

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - An Indiana law prohibiting registered sex offenders from using social networking sites such as Facebook is too broad and violates U.S. constitutional protections for free speech, a federal appeals court panel ruled on Wednesday.

The Indiana law that banned most sex offenders from using social networking websites, instant messaging services and chat programs was "not narrowly tailored to serve the state's interest," the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said.

"It broadly prohibits substantial protected speech rather than specifically targeting the evil of improper communications to minors," the panel said, adding that Indiana had alternatives to a blanket ban including restrictions on supervised release.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said his office would review the decision before determining its next move.

A federal judge had upheld the law after a challenge by a man who was convicted in 2000 of two counts of child exploitation and was required to register as a sex offender after his release from prison in 2003.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which pursued the court challenge, said the state has a paramount interest in protecting children, but the law was so broad as to even prevent people from posting resumes to social media sites.

The law was "so broad that it prevents someone convicted of an offense years, or even decades ago, from engaging in a host of innocent communication via social media," Ken Falk, legal director of ACLU of Indiana, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Susan Guyett in Indianapolis; Editing by David Bailey and Cynthia Johnston)

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