Do Prisoners Have a First Amendment Right to Facebook?

by on October 22, 2012 · 0 comments

in Constitutional Law,Web 2.0

A prisoner serving time in a Philadelphia prison is making a novel legal argument after being denied access to popular social media website Facebook. He claims his First Amendment rights have been violated.

The prisoner did not seek to log on to Facebook, but rather received printouts from the site through the U.S. Mail. After prison officials seized the printouts as “unacceptable correspondence,” inmate Mark Nixon filed a civil rights lawsuit. The lawsuit alleged that Nixon “has been and will continue to be irreparably injured” by the prison’s anti-Facebook policy. He requested a court order mandating that prison officials “stop confiscating…social media” printouts sent through the mail.

However, Nixon has been fighting an uphill legal battle. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently confirmed the dismissal of his lawsuit.

While the court acknowledged that inmates do not forfeit their First Amendment rights during their period of incarceration, it also noted that their right to receive and send mail can be restricted for legitimate penological interests. The appeals court further concluded that the confiscation of the Facebook posts did not restrict his “ability to access the courts to challenge his sentence or conditions of confinement.”

Accordingly, the Third Circuit affirmed the ruling. “The District Court correctly determined that Nixon’s claim alleging a single, isolated interference with his personal mail was insufficient to constitute a First Amendment violation,” the opinion stated.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that access to Facebook has been limited by prison officials. In 2011, CNET reported that Facebook was working with prison officials to shut down accounts found to be updated while inmates were incarcerated. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the goal is to prevent inmates from using social networking to deliver threats or unwanted sexual advances.

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