KFOX14Investigates: Supreme Court says sex offenders have right to use social media

Supreme Court says sex offenders have right to use social media.

Some child advocates are outraged by a recent Supreme Court ruling.

The high court ruled sex offenders have the First Amendment right to use social media sites that may be accessed by children.

KFOX14 Investigates is taking a deeper look at with what that means for Texas where current laws limit sex offenders from using social media.

Sex offenders who've been released from Texas prisons aren't allowed to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and some other websites.

In fact, their computer keystrokes are monitored.

Now this Supreme Court ruling could ultimately overturn state law.

Connecting online is easier than ever these days.

It’s a friend or follow request and the click of a button away.

This makes it that much easier for predators to connect with children.

“Once they are convicted they should lose a lot of rights,” said Gabriel Portillo of West El Paso.

Some El Paso parents tell KFOX14 Investigates they don't think sex offenders should be on these social networking sites.

“I don't think they should have it,” said Karla Corral of East El Paso.

“I totally disagree with the idea,” said dad Pedro Palermo.

But the Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously that sex offenders have the right to free speech and that includes social media.

The Supreme Court ruling didn't directly involve Texas law, but rather struck down a similar ban in North Carolina.

Some child advocacy groups across the state are in disbelief.

"It's very upsetting to me that we're giving easier access to our most vulverable individuals in our society, our children,” said Randy McGibeny with Childsafe SA in San Antonio which helps sexually abused children.

He said offenders use social networks to groom young victims.

“To me when you allow unfettered access to a sexual perpetrator online what you're doing is opening the door for the potential for that grooming to actually happen,” said McGibeny.

At the Advocacy Center for the children of El Paso, Susan Olivas believes the sex offenders who use their real name on social media aren't the ones to worry about.

In Texas, some offenders are required to register their domain names with the Department of Public Safety.

“What’s more scary are the ones trolling for our children that are using pseudonyms,” said Olivas.

In the Supreme Court case, Texas and 13 other states filed briefs supporting North Carolina.

Now, if the similar rules in Texas are challenged in court, they too could be struck down.

“I feel like it's their right to have social media,” said Steven Frausto of Central El Paso.

A group called Texas Voices for Reason and Justice sent a statement saying: “The decision of the Supreme Court in the Packingham case was reasonable and just. A complete ban on social media for people who are required to register makes it almost impossible for them to live productive lives."

Olivas said, the best way to protect your child from sex offenders online is to watch them.

“If children aren't being observed, and their parents don’t know what their kids are doing on the internet, they are in danger anyway,” said Olivas.

Olivas said it's also a good idea to use the DPS sex offender look-up if you're concerned about who your children are interacting with online.

The Texas AG’s office has not yet commented on the impact the ruling could have on state law.

But state Rep. Joe Moody, who is also an attorney, told KFOX14, he doesn't foresee an issue with Texas law since it is much more specific than North Carolina's.

Advocacy Center Tips for Parents:

Teaching your Teen Simple Steps to Increase Safety

1. Don’t give optional information, you don’t need to enter all of the information that is requested. Don’t feel obligated to put your address and telephone number

2. Third level of privacy - the best setting to use is “friends only” setting on all of your privacy choices. It the strictest level of security.

3. Accept only people you know - accepting only people you know and trust is a great way to ensure safety while using social networking sites.

Four major dangers of using social networking:

1. Oversharing information

2. He’s not who you think he is. Social networking sites make it very easy for someone to pretend to be someone else.

3. Location-based services - location-based services exposes the profile user's location and whereabouts. Predators can use this tool to track your movements and determine when you are alone or not at home

4. Posting photos - posting inappropriate photos can end up where one least expects.

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