March 23, 2016 | By Dave Maass

After Withholding Mail, Army Allows Chelsea Manning to Read EFF Writing

Update April 13, 2016: The U.S. Army has confirmed in writing to Chelsea Manning that the packets were withheld due to being too many pages, rather than copyright concerns. 

EFF is pleased to announce that the U.S. Army has allowed Chelsea Manning to receive a packet of news articles, EFF blog posts, and a regulatory filing related to prisoner free speech rights that it had previously withheld. Manning is currently imprisoned at the U.S Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) at Ft. Leavenworth for her role in the release of military and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks.

As we reported last month, the Army had rejected the mail from a Manning supporter citing regulations limiting printouts from the Internet. Initially, the mail had been withheld under provisions that both limited the number of pages an inmate can receive from the Internet and allowed the prison to block Internet pages that it believed may violate copyright laws. The information provided to Manning made the actual basis for withholding unclear, and EFF wrote to the Army pointing out that printing the materials for Manning would not infringe our copyright. We also sent the materials to Manning directly.

Ultimately, the Army did provide Manning with the content after EFF re-sent it. The material included blog posts about inmate use of social media and articles from Buzzfeed and the Harvard Business Review. We have since learned the Army separately restricted Manning’s access to at least two other packets of writing, including printouts from Twitter and posts from Vice's Broadly , PinkNews, The Independent, BoingBoing, Fight for the Future, ACLU, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation, all of which related to a podcast Manning recorded with Amnesty International.

The Army has yet to respond to EFF’s letter that voiced our concerns about the policy, but Manning has received a rejection to her appeal. It remains unclear whether the information was blocked solely because the packets each contained more than the five-page limit on printouts or if copyright also played a role. It’s unfortunate that the initial withholding notice was not clear on that point.

EFF remains concerned about the overly restrictive limits on content from the Internet provided to Manning and other prisoners. While prisons may establish limits based on staff ability to review large number of pages for contraband and coded messages, the five-page limit seems unnecessarily small. Indeed, it would make it difficult to send an inmate even a single, long article. In contrast, the New York prison system—which is not especially known for a strong civil rights record—has a similar five-page limit, but it considers a single news clipping to be one page, even if it is printed across multiple pieces of paper. We hope the Army will consider at least this minor adjustment, since the Internet is obviously a crucial source of information.

In addition, we believe the Army erred in withholding EFF’s filing to the Federal Communications Commission on regulating prison telecommunications systems, since it was not an Internet article, but a public record.

Prisons must respect the rights of inmates to access information from the Internet, especially if that information relates to the rights of inmates. We urge USDB to review these mail policies and to respond without delay to EFF’s letter.


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