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Friday, January 23, 2015

Is It Illegal for a Virginia Registered Sex Offender to Use Facebook to Connect with Friends, Family and Loved Ones Across the Country?


One of the more popular questions I get from readers is about having a Facebook account as an RSO in Virginia. 

Before I cover the law in Virginia let me first make a disclaimer. 

If you are under VADOC Probation supervision or under court-mandated Sex offender therapy you have a separate set of rules that you must follow that could result in criminal charges if you break them and you need to refer to your specific rules and not just Virginia law to confirm if you are in compliance. 

OK. 

Virginia Code says under Registration Procedures for Sex Offenders
Section G - 30 minutes following any change of electronic mail address information, any instant message, chat or other Internet communication name or identity information that the person uses or intends to use 

Any changeincludes the creation or the deletion of any Email Address, Instant Messenger Name, Identity or Address. 

1. As an RSO in Virginia you must register EVERY email address you have access to, period! 

2. Virginia law does not require an RSO to register their social media accounts or chat-room accounts to the Virginia State Police (VSP) including but not limited to:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Pinterist
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr
  • eHarmony
  • Match.com
3. In Virginia it is not a crime for an RSO to have a Facebook account, but in some other states it is

Note: Such laws have been overturned by the courts as unconstitutional:
2009/2012:
o        Nebraska
2012:
o        Louisiana
2013:
o        California (email addresses too)
o        Indiana
o        North Carolina 
 

So if you are visiting another state and check your Facebook account while in that state, you could be facing a Felony so know what the current law is before you log on. 

4. Facebook has a no Sex Offender policy which means anyone who is required to Register as a Sex Offender is prohibited from having an account/being a member. If Facebook finds an account belonging to a Registered Sex Offender they can and will shut it down without notice. Many dating websites like eHarmony and Match.com have similar policies. 

5. The Virginia State Police IT Department routinely sends the registered email addresses of all RSO's to Facebook so that Facebook can close any accounts with matching addresses. 

6. The VSP has been known to ask RSO's during registration and re-registration if they have a Facebook account but their inquiry is NOT written into Virginia law, it is not a required question of registration as an RSO. 
  1. If you say “yes” to owning a Facebook account and the email address you've used on Facebook is registered with the VSP then you have not committed a crime, but you can be guaranteed the Facebook account will be shut down asap.
  2. If you say “yes” to owning a Facebook and the email address you've used is NOT registered with the VSP then you have committed a crime for not registering the email address, not because you had a Facebook account.
  3. If you lie and say “no”, and the VSP finds out you do in fact have a Facebook account you've lied to an officer of the law and I believe that might be a crime. An attorney would have to confirm this.
  4. If you refuse to answer the question of owning a Facebook account, then you are just making a difficult situation for yourself and they most likely will open an investigation on you.
7. Some Commonwealth Attorney’s in Virginia have been known to file charges against RSO’s for crimes that do NOT exist, including having a Facebook account. In this particular case: http://www.roanoke.com/news/crime/roanoke/sex-offender-accused-of-being-at-roanoke-childcare-site/article_8296bdf6-c68b-11e3-abaa-001a4bcf6878.html the fraudulent charge was dropped months later. That’s because it isn’t a crime to have a Facebook account in Virginia, it’s only a crime to have an unregistered email address. 

And if any Virginia lawmaker ever proposed to make it a crime in Virginia for an RSO to access social media, based on the 5 above court rulings if passed into law it would probably be overturned right away .....and I would take the passage of such a law in Virginia on immediately. 

I hope this clears up Virginia law, what the VSP may ask at registration and the policies of some websites so that as an RSO you remain compliant while staying in touch with friends, family and loved ones around the country, perhaps the world via the Internet. 

I want everyone who is trying their best to remain complaint to do so and since the state makes almost no effort to assist RSO's in knowing what they can and can not do, I am doing my best to help all of you!

Mary