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PLN Amicus Brief, Clement v. CDC. California Ban on Internet Downloads, 2003

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In the
Case No. 03-15006

On Appeal from the United States District Court
For the Northern District of California, Judge Claudia Wiken,
Case No. C 00-1860 CW


Attorneys for Amicus Curiae
Lee Tien
Kevin Bankston
Electronic Frontier Foundation
454 Shotwell Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 436-9333
(415) 436-9993 (fax)
July 1, 2003


INTERESTS OF AMICUS................................................................ 1


ARGUMENT.................................................................................... 4

Prisoners have a First Amendment right to receive mail .......... 4


There is no common-sense connection between the ban on
Internet-generated mail and the government interests put
forward to justify it ................................................................ 6



There is no common-sense connection between the ban
on Internet-generated mail and the government interests
put forward to justify it................................................. 7


There is no common-sense connection between the ban
on Internet-generated mail and Defendants’ concern over
mail volume................................................................. 8

The ban on Internet-generated mail leaves prisoners with no
alternative means of accessing valuable speech that is actually
or practically available only online ....................................... 10

III. CONCLUSION............................................................................... 15


Frost v. Symington, 197 F.3d 348 (9th Cir. 1999) ....................................... 7
Prison Legal News v. Cook, 238 F.3d 1145 (9th Cir. 2001).............iii, 1, 3, 4
Prison Legal News v. Schumacher, USDC OR, Case No. 02-248-MA......... 3
Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844 (1997) .................. 11
Thornburgh v. Abbot, 490 U.S. 401 (1989) ............................................ 5, 6
Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987)..................................................passim
Walker v. Sumner, 917 F.2d 382 (9th Cir.1990).......................................... 7


Pursuant to FRAP 26.1, amicus Prison Legal News ("PLN"), a
501(c)(3) non-profit corporation incorporated in the State of Washington,
makes the following disclosure:

PLN is not a publicly held corporation or other publicly held


PLN has no parent corporations.


No publicly held corporation or other publicly held entity owns


10% or more of PLN.

PLN is not a trade association.


June 30, 2003

Kevin Bankston
Electronic Frontier Foundation




Amicus Curiae Prison Legal News (PLN) publishes a 36-page
monthly magazine providing cutting-edge review and analysis of prisoner
rights, prisoner-relevant legislation and court rulings, and news about
general prison issues. This information helps prisoners and other concerned
individuals and organizations protect prisoners’ rights. Founded in 1990 by
two prison inmates with a budget of $50 and access only to a typewriter and
a prison law library, PLN is now a non-profit corporation with three fulltime employees, based in Seattle, Washington.
PLN covers such issues as court access, prison conditions, excessive
force, mail censorship and other free speech issues, prison rape, abuse of
women prisoners, the Prison Legal Reform Act, medical treatment for
prisoners, AIDS in prisons, the death penalty, and many more topics of great
import to prisoners and those concerned about them.

A purposeful

publication with limited resources, the PLN magazine uses no color and
contains almost nothing but informative text; no space or money is wasted
on crossword puzzles or personal ads. Unsurprisingly, this Court has
characterized PLN as "core political speech." Prison Legal News v. Cook,
238 F.3d 1145, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001).
PLN subscribers and readers include state and federal prisoners, civil
and criminal trial and appellate attorneys, judges, public defenders,
journalists, academics, paralegals, prison rights activists, students, family
members of prisoners, concerned private individuals, politicians and

government officials.

As of December 2002, PLN was distributing

approximately 4,000 issues per month, including overseas distribution to 23
countries. In the United States, roughly 65% of PLN’s subscribers are state
and federal prisoners, and PLN has prisoner subscribers in all 50 states.
Thirteen percent of its subscribers are located in California, more than any
other state.
PLN maintains a stable of regular contributing writers, most of whom
are imprisoned. PLN also uses an extensive network of freelance writers,
again often imprisoned.

To enable imprisoned writers to adequately

research and report on an assignment, PLN typically must send source
material via mail, such as news articles, case law, and other legal sources
concerning prison-related issues, litigation, and legislation. To the extent
resources allow, PLN also sends such materials to prisoners who request
them, regardless of whether they are contributing writers.
PLN relies extensively on the Internet for much of this material. PLN
especially relies on government Web sites, as well as online databases such
as Westlaw, Lexis-Nexis, and the free resource Findlaw, to locate and print
necessary source materials. Internet sources are particularly important for
timely reporting on new court decisions and statutes that have not yet been
published on paper.
PLN also relies on the Internet for publicity and distribution,
maintaining a Web site ( where it provides back
issues for download, links to other Web sites relevant to prison legal issues,

and subscription order forms. PLN often receives printouts of these order
forms from first-time subscribers who are incarcerated. As prisoners lack
Internet access of their own, they must receive these forms after they are
printed out and mailed to them by friends or family. When resources allow,
PLN intends to extend its Web site to include legal briefs and other
informational material of use to prisoners and prisoner-rights activists.
Again, prisoners would have to rely on non-incarcerated friends and family
to download, print, and mail those materials to them.
PLN has litigated the speech rights of prisoners and their
correspondents in order to preserve its own ability to accurately report and
effectively distribute legal news relevant to prisoners. See, e.g., Prison Legal
News v. Cook, 238 F.3d at 1149 (challenge to a prison regulation banning
standard or "bulk" mail); Prison Legal News v. Schumacher, USDC OR,
Case No. 02-248-MA (negotiated settlement with Oregon Department of
Corrections under which all mailings from PLN will now be delivered to
prisoners regardless of postal classification).
PLN, because of its reliance on the Internet in continuing its mission
to provide timely and accurate legal news to prisoners and concerned
citizens, and as evidenced by its past involvement in similar litigation, has a
strong interest in defending the right of prisoners to receive, and nonincarcerated citizens to send, mail containing speech printed from the
Plaintiff has consented to the filing of this brief, and Defendants have

declined to consent but have indicated no opposition. We have sought leave
of this Court to file this brief.


Prisoners have a First Amendment right to receive mail

This case presents the simple question of whether prison officials may
prevent prisoners from receiving information via ordinary postal mail simply
because that information had been downloaded from the Internet. Under the
regulation at issue here, a prisoner may receive a clipping or photocopy of a
newspaper article -- but not if it had been downloaded from the newspaper's
Web site and then printed onto paper.
Prisoners have a First Amendment right to receive information by
incoming mail. See, e.g., Prison Legal News, 238 F.3d at 1149. To be
constitutionally valid, prison regulation of incoming mail must be
reasonably related to the prison's legitimate penological interests.


Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987).
The district court correctly recognized that the regulation described
above fails constitutional muster under Turner and its progeny. In this
amicus brief, Prison Legal News seeks to emphasize the importance of
permitting PLN to send, and prisoners to receive, printouts of information
downloaded from the Internet. Much information today is available only on
the Internet. And even when information is available from non-Internet
sources, Internet sources are often easier and cheaper to use -- an important
consideration for those of modest means, whether a small non-profit group

like PLN or a prisoner's friends and family. Accordingly, amicus urges this
Court to affirm the district court.
Prison inmates do not surrender their First Amendment rights merely
because they are incarcerated. "Prison walls do not form a barrier separating
prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution, nor do they bar free
citizens from exercising their own constitutional rights by reaching out to
those on the inside."

Thornburgh v. Abbot, 490 U.S. 401, 407 (1989)

(internal quotations and citations omitted). Therefore, a prison regulation
that infringes inmates’ constitutional rights is valid only if it is "reasonably
related to the prison’s legitimate penological interests." Turner, 482 U.S. at
89. Turner defines the relevant test of reasonableness:
First, there must be a valid, rational connection between the
prison regulation and the legitimate governmental interest put
forward to justify it. . . .
A second factor. . . is whether there are alternative means of
exercising the right that remain open to prison inmates . . . .
A third consideration is the impact accommodation of the
asserted right will have on guards and other inmates, and on the
allocation of prison resources generally.
Finally, the absence of ready alternatives is evidence of the
reasonableness of a prison regulation. By the same token, the
existence of obvious, easy alternatives may be evidence that the
regulation is not reasonable, but is an exaggerated response to
prison concerns.
Id. at 89-90 (internal citations omitted); see also Thornburgh, 490 U.S. at
413-14 (applying Turner test to prison’s regulation of incoming mail).
As the district court clearly found, see Appellants’ Excerpts of Record


("ER") 330-31, and as Appellee has adequately argued, see Appellee’s Br.
25-26, allowing prisoners to receive Internet-generated materials would have
no meaningful impact on guards and other inmates, nor on the allocation of
prison resources generally. Similarly, as already explained by the district
court, see ER 331, and Appellee, see Appellee’s Br. 27, the availability of an
obvious, easy alternative demonstrates that the ban on Internet-generated
mail is an unreasonable and exaggerated response to prison concerns.
Therefore, Amicus will here only address the first two of the Turner factors.

There is no common-sense connection between the ban on
Internet-generated mail and the government interests put
forward to justify it

Under Turner, "a regulation cannot be sustained where the logical
connection between the regulation and the asserted goal is so remote as to
render the policy arbitrary or irrational."

Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-90.

Importantly, deference to prison officials is implicit in the Turner test itself;
the Turner standard of review was crafted to be "responsive…to the policy
of judicial restraint regarding prisoner complaints."

Id. at 85 (internal

quotation and citation omitted). Accordingly, no additional deference is
required beyond its terms. When challenged, "[p]rison authorities cannot
rely on general or conclusory assertions to support their policies," Walker v.
Sumner, 917 F.2d 382, 386 (9th Cir.1990), and exaggerated responses to
even legitimate concerns are unacceptable. Turner, 482 U.S. at 90. Rather,
Defendants must at least advance a "common-sense" connection between
their policy and the alleged penological interest. Frost v. Symington, 197

F.3d 348, 357 (9th Cir. 1999).
Here, the so-called rationales offered by Defendants to justify the ban
on Internet-generated mail at Pelican Bay State Prison lack any sensible
connection to the asserted penological interests. Defendants’ fears of
anonymous, coded messages are no more than unfounded suspicions about a
misunderstood medium, and their worries about prison mailrooms being
"flooded" with "reams of documents downloaded at a whim" are
exaggerated at best. Appellants’ Opening Br. 11.

There is no common-sense connection between the ban
on Internet-generated mail and the government interests
put forward to justify it.

As the district court correctly found, "Defendants have failed to
articulate any reason to believe that Internet-produced materials are more
likely to contain coded, criminal correspondence than photocopied or
handwritten materials." ER 327 (emphasis added). Defendants argue that
this finding was erroneous because it placed on them an improper
evidentiary burden.

See Appellants’ Opening Br. 9-10.

However, the

district court found for Plaintiff not because of Defendants’ lack of evidence,
but their lack of common sense. Coded messages can just as easily be
transmitted via mail that does not come from the Internet. See ER 327.
Furthermore, since material from the Internet would reach prisoners only in
paper and not electronic form, there is no reason to fear hidden, embedded
text that prisoners could uncover using a computer. See Appellees Br. 15. If
Defendants fear electronically embedded text, somehow communicated on

paper, then they might as well be reluctant to handle documents printed from
the Internet for fear of catching a computer virus. Such fears could hardly
be considered rational.
Similarly, Defendants’ assertion that it is easier to hide the sender’s
identity when mail is Internet-generated was not rejected by the district court
because they lacked evidence, but because they could not even articulate
any explanation for it. See ER 329. The same clues as to the identity of the
sender of paper mail exist whether or not that mail contains information
downloaded from the Internet, and if the concern is over the sender or author
of the electronic message that was printed, the evidence shows that it would
be easier to track that person than if they had used paper. See ER 327-8.
Indeed, Defendants cannot even credibly maintain that knowing the identity
of a sender is a valid security interest, because prison regulations do not
require return addresses on incoming mail. See ER 328-29.

There is no common-sense connection between the ban
on Internet-generated mail and Defendants’ concern over
mail volume

Defendants expect this Court to defer to their conclusory assertion that
Internet-generated mail would unduly burden prison resources because it
carries a "potential for a high volume of text" that is somehow
distinguishable from the potential volume of any other kind of mail.
Appellants’ Opening Br. 10. Yet the only basis for this concern over mail
volume is an irrational fear that senders will "flood the mailroom with reams
of documents downloaded at a whim from the internet."


Opening Br. 11. Defendants cannot explain how this would be different
from printing "at a whim" from the many CD-ROM products containing
"reams of documents," such as Microsoft’s "Encarta" Encyclopedia or the
CD-ROM editions of the Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis databases. Nor can they
distinguish such downloading from whimsically printing truckloads of word
processor documents that have never been on the Internet, or even speedily
batch-feeding paper documents to a photocopier.

Certainly, limiting

incoming mail to handwritten missives would also reduce the volume of
incoming mail by preventing people from, "at a whim," typing words at a
much faster rate than they can write. But such a regulation just as certainly
would not be rational, and neither is a ban on Internet-generated mail.
Adding to the irrationality of this ban is the fact that, as a practical
matter, many Internet-generated documents cannot be identified as such,
including files for word processors such as Microsoft Word, or ".pdf" files
for Adobe Acrobat. Such files are easily and commonly attached to e-mails
or linked to from Web sites, yet carry no marks identifying them as Internet
documents. In fact, with unlimited time, money, and paper, one could print
every legal opinion in the Westlaw database without ever generating a
document that identified itself as coming from the Internet, since each is
available as a Microsoft Word document. All of those cases could then be
mailed to Pelican Bay, and the restriction at issue would be of no help—
although a simple page limit on each piece of mail, regardless of source,


The ban on Internet-generated mail leaves prisoners with
no alternative means of accessing valuable speech that is
actually or practically available only online

The second Turner factor asks "whether there are alternative means of
exercising the right [in question] that remain open to prison inmates."
Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-90.

Here, the right in question is access to

constitutionally protected information and expression that comes from
outside the prison walls.

The ban on Internet-generated mail prevents

prisoners from getting information that is available only online, whether
actually or practically, leaving no alternative means of access to that
information. It also prevents PLN from providing its incarcerated writers
with the source materials needed to accurately report on prison legal issues.
The contents of the Internet are "as diverse as human thought." Reno
v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844, 870 (1997). The countless
online resources concerning the law, medicine, religion, and an untold
number of other topics often contain unique material that is unavailable in
print publications.

Additionally, many printed publications, although

technically available in the offline world, are only practically available to
most people online. Such documents that are unique to or uniquely
accessible on the Internet could prove crucial to a prisoner for succeeding in
an appeal, maintaining his health, or even saving his soul.
For timely access to new statutes and legal opinions, which is
especially important to PLN's work, Internet access is a must. For example,
both the U.S. and California Supreme Courts release their decisions online


before they ever appear on paper (at and, respectively).

The online service Findlaw

( offers a free, searchable database of state and federal
cases and statutes, enabling prisoners’ friends and family to search for
information helpful to the incarcerated, even if they lack the time or money
to do research at a law library or use a premium online service such as
Westlaw. Findlaw also provides legal commentary (
and legal news ( that is published nowhere else.
Similarly, ( offers regional legal news from across
the country that is likely unavailable in local law libraries, and provides a
database ( allowing users to search for legal experts
across the country based on expertise, an exercise that would be futile at a
local library.
Many people use the Internet to share their religious views and values.
Much of this material is not available offline, or is available for free only

The theological journal of Albuquerque Bible College

( requires payment for physical
subscriptions but offers its contents online for free.

Similarly, A Brief

Illustrated History of Islam must be paid for in book form, but is available
for free download online (

Finally, the Hebrew

University of Jerusalem ( offers an
extensive directory linking to many Internet-only religious journals,






The Internet has also become most people’s first step when
researching an illness. As AIDS is one of PLN’s most important issues,
online medical information is of particular value. Offline medical
information can be expensive, difficult to locate, bulky, and out of date. By
contrast, Web sites such as those of the American Diabetes Association
( or American Lung Association ( offer
current, free, targeted information from expert sources. Users can search for
specific symptoms, conditions and diseases, drugs, treatments, and
preventive measures according to various indicia. A printout of the home
page of such specialized Web sites could quickly apprise a prisoner of the
resources available online and enable him to request further information for
his friends or family to send along. Many health sites also offer e-mail
newsletters tailored to a subscriber’s individual interests and concerns. For
instance, a prisoner interested in smoking cessation and the latest discoveries
in cancer treatment could have a friend regularly print and mail a short,
individualized newsletter covering those topics (
Such specialized e-mail newsletters are not unique to medical sites; Findlaw
has newsletters covering legal developments in specific practice areas and
jurisdictions (
Moreover, the Internet does not merely imitate offline publications.
The Internet’s greatest strength lies in interactivity, enabling ongoing
conversations on every topic imaginable by both experts and amateurs all

over the world.

There are e-mail lists, message boards and discussion

groups where anyone with valuable information to share or with a particular
informational need can participate in a dialogue with others, and provide or
acquire personalized knowledge and new perspectives unavailable in any
book or magazine.
An e-mail mailing list, or "listserv", is a communal discussion held via
e-mail, usually based around a particular topic or community. CataList






containing over 71,894 public listservs. A search of this directory for lists
about cancer produces 158 results, including support groups for a wide range
of cancer types; there are 33 lists concerning AIDS and more than 800 lists
about law.

There is even a directory dedicated solely to criminal law

listservs (

The loved one of a

prisoner could subscribe to mailing lists of particular relevance to the
inmate, and then print out and mail especially informative e-mails from list
participants, containing unique, personalized insights that cannot be found in
a library.
Online discussion groups or "newsgroups" are like listservs in that
they are online conversations covering specific topics and communities;
instead of relying on e-mail, however, messages are posted on Internet news
(NTTP) servers, which serve as directories of and hosts to newsgroups.
Newsgroups exist for every conceivable topic. A directory of health-related
newsgroups ( enables one to easily find

groups dealing with, e.g., AIDS, cancer, nutrition, or sleep disorders; a
similar directory of legal topics ( includes
groups discussing, e.g., child support, death penalty activism, and law
enforcement. Web-based message forums serve a similar function. The
Criminal Justice Forum message board (
hosts discussions on prison issues and the drug war, while InteliHealth
( hosts bulletin boards dealing with specific medical
conditions, and even has an "Ask The Expert" forum where experienced
doctors will answer health questions. With such resources, a prisoner in
correspondence with an Internet user could have his question posted and
receive the printed reply.
The most notable feature of newsgroups, as opposed to e-mail
listservs and Web-based bulletin boards, is that all of the messages posted to
them, stretching back for more than two decades, are stored and searchable
with search engines like Google ( With such a long
history, almost any question you can imagine has been posted, hashed over,
and then answered or dismissed by the appropriate community of experts
and enthusiasts at some point, and by using Google, the relevant posts can be
easily retrieved.
Just as electronic documents are replacing paper and online discussion
is supplementing real-world dialogue in ways that ignore geography, digital
pictures are transcending the limits of traditional film photography. Before
being printed, such pictures necessarily must pass through a computer, and

are usually shared with others via attachment to e-mail or posting on the
Internet. Digital pictures taken by most camera-phones must be sent by email to reach a printer, and such cameras are quickly becoming as common
here as they are overseas. There is no reason why a prisoner's access to
pictures of a family reunion or child's school recital should be limited based
on the type of camera his family happens to use. Nor should a prisoner’s
wife be prevented from sharing impromptu pictures captured with a phonecam or pocket sized digital camera, of a child’s first steps, a particularly
endearing smile, or a quiet moment between family, based only on
Defendants’ arbitrary and irrational fear of the Internet.
As the district court noted, there are recognized rehabilitative benefits
to allowing prisoners contact with the outside world, whether to receive
educational reading material or to maintain family ties. See ER 324-25.
Clearly, much educational material is available only online, and Internetbased communication through e-mail and pictures is quickly becoming
central to the family bond. Eliminating those channels of communication
will condemn prisoners to a pre-Internet era, while the rest of the world
moves on, and will only hinder their reintegration into society upon release.


For the foregoing reasons, the district court’s judgment should be


DATED: July 1, 2003
Lee Tien, Esq. (SBN 148216)
Kevin Bankston, Esq. (SBN 217026)
454 Shotwell Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Telephone: (415) 436-9333 x108
Facsimile: (415) 436-9993
Attorneys for Amicus Curiae



This brief complies with the type-volume limitation of Fed. R.

App. P. 32(a)(7)(B) because this brief contains 3657 words, excluding the
parts of the brief exempted by Fed. R. App. P. 32(a)(7)(B)(iii).

This brief complies with the typeface requirements of Fed. R.

App. P. 32(a)(5) and the type style requirements of Fed. R. App. P. 32(a)(6)
because this brief has been prepared in a proportionally spaced typeface
using Microsoft Word 2000 version 9 in Times New Roman, 14-point font.

DATED: July 1, 2003
Lee Tien, Esq. (SBN 148216)
Kevin Bankston, Esq. (SBN 217026)
454 Shotwell Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Telephone: (415) 436-9333 x108
Facsimile: (415) 436-9993
Attorneys for Amicus Curiae

I certify that, on this 30 day of June, 2003, a true and correct copy of
Brief of Prison Legal News as Amicus Curiae in Support of PlaintiffAppellee Frank Clement and in Favor of Affirmance was served via U.S.
Mail, postage prepaid, upon the following:
Robert A. Mittelstaedt
Craig E. Stewart
555 California Street, 25th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104
Jennifer Starks
465 Bellevue Ave. #35
Oakland, CA 94610
Ann Brick
1663 Mission Street, Suite 460
San Francisco, CA 94103
Donald Specter
Heather Mackay
General Delivery
San Quentin, CA 94964
Bill Lockyer
Robert R. Anderson
Allen R. Crown
Rochelle C. Holzmann
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 11000
San Francisco, CA 94102-7004

Counsel for Amicus Curiae
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