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Web rights break into prisons

Prisoner rights groups are cheering a federal court ruling that quashes attempts to halt Web postings that mention prisoners.

Prisoner rights groups are cheering a federal court ruling that quashes attempts to halt Web postings that mention prisoners.

U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll on Monday put a temporary halt to an Arizona state law that banned prisoners from posting information about their cases on the Web or corresponding using a remote computer service or communication service provider. Under the law, prisoners who kept their information on the Web were subject to penalties including criminal prosecution.

The law was designed to maintain prison security in the digital age, but prisoner advocacy groups said some corrections officers were using it to threaten inmates out of posting their side of the story on the Web. Although prisoners do not have direct access to the Web, prisoner advocacy groups would post information on an inmate's behalf.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights groups challenged the law on behalf of anti-death penalty and other prisoner rights groups, saying it threatened free speech.

"Arizona's attempt to censor Internet content was a frightening step toward government repression of free speech," Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, said in a statement.

The judge agreed, issuing a preliminary injunction saying that protecting the First Amendment rights of prisoner advocacy groups and their clients "is a compelling public interest."

Furthermore, he said corrections officials already had methods in place to protect public safety, including a ban on prisoner access to the Web and searches of ingoing and outgoing inmate communications.

The Arizona Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to requests for comment.