The Unreal Secrecy About Drone Killings

This was originally posted on Just Security.

Last year, after concluding that many passages in the document “no longer merited secrecy,” the Second Circuit published a redacted version of the Justice Department’s July 2010 Office of Legal Council memo that approved the “targeted killing” of Anwar al-Aulaqi. The court’s view was that government officials had already disclosed much of the information they were trying to withhold. In speeches, media interviews, and congressional testimony, officials had acknowledged the government’s role in the strike that killed al-Aulaqi, explained the purported legal basis for the strike, and invoked still-secret OLC memos to reassure the public that the strike was lawful. Having done all of this, the court said, the government couldn’t plausibly claim that the entirety of the July 2010 memo was still secret, and it couldn’t lawfully withhold the entirety of the memo under the Freedom of Information Act.

From one perspective, the Second Circuit’s ruling was a victory for transparency. Human rights groups and media organizations had been calling for the release of the legal memos underlying the targeted-killing program; thanks to the Second Circuit’s ruling, one of those memos — arguably the most important one — was made public. From another perspective, the court’s ruling wasn’t very significant at all. The ruling didn’t expose secrets. By its own terms, it exposed facts and legal analysis that had already been disclosed.

Whatever perspective one adopted, though, one thing seemed undeniable: The publication of the memo constituted an official disclosure of the government’s legal analysis.

But one should never underestimate the government’s willingness to deny the undeniable — a lesson I probably should have learned by now. Last week, the government filed a brief asking the Second Circuit to allow it to withhold other OLC memos relating to the targeted-killing program. In a footnote, the government provides this take on the court’s publication of the July 2010 OLC memo (which the government calls the “OLC-DOD Memorandum”): 

Targeted Killing Government Secrecy

The first two sentences of this footnote are a belated attempt to preserve the government’s ability to challenge the court’s conclusion that portions of the July 2010 memo had been officially acknowledged. I say “belated” both because the government didn’t petition for certiorari when it could have and because the memo has already been published.

But it’s the last sentence of the footnote that is truly remarkable — unreal, one might even say. Sure, the government says, the Second Circuit published the July 2010 memo, and sure, it published the memo after having concluded that the government had officially acknowledged the memo’s contents, and after the government declined to file a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court. But so what?, the government says. We don’t consider the Second Circuit’s publication of the memo to have been an official disclosure. As far as we’re concerned, the government says, the memo is still secret.

I’ve written elsewhere about the implications of this kind of official secrecy. I’m not sure what else to say about it, except that the government’s footnote calls to mind Karl Rove’s infamous remark to Ron Suskind about the construction of “reality”:

We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.

Rove’s targets at the time were journalists and doves — members of what he called “the reality-based community” — but Rove’s use of the word “judiciously” perhaps suggests that his statement has broader application. In the empire, he seems to be saying, the executive creates reality. The rest of us — judges included — can only study it.

The government says that a court releasing DOJ documents in a FOIA case doesn’t count as “official disclosure.”

How Soon Should Police Turn Off Their Cameras After a Critical Incident?

In January a Black man with his hands up was shot to death by a police officer in New Jersey. Video (and audio) of the incident was captured by the officer's dashcam. The incident didn't receive the attention of the Walter Scott video released Tuesday, probably because it seemed to many to be less clear-cut, and because it lacked a dimension of race-based abuse since the shooting officer was also Black.

One thing in this video caught my ear, however. At the end of the video (after the 4:40 point), police voices can be heard beginning to discuss what happened, and then saying, “Turn it off. Turn it off. Everybody should be off.” Then the dashcam video apparently ends. Seems like they were talking about turning off all dash cams and body cameras.

This suggests to me that police cameras should remain on until any officers involved in a “critical incident” such as a shooting, are removed from the scene to give their initial statements. (I don't know if that's standard operating procedure after a shooting but if it's not seems like it should be.)

The reason for this is to prevent cover-ups and story-synching by any officers who might, after an incident, be inclined to tidy up their version of events including evidence. I can't recall seeing such a requirement in any of the body camera policies I've seen. Most have language requiring that officers record “until the completion of the event or they have left the scene” or a supervisor authorizes them to stop, or the like. One easy fix for what I'm saying might be to simply change the “or” in that phrase to an “and.”

One might argue that the goal of police cameras is to capture interactions between police and suspects, so when a suspect dies the “encounter” is over and the cameras can go off. But the real goal of body cameras is not to capture this or that, but to increase community trust in the police. After the Walter Scott shooting, witness Feidin Santana continued to film until well after the shooting—and so captured the officer apparently setting up the victim by placing a taser next to his body to support his story of why he shot Scott. This has contributed to public cynicism about police cover-ups. Anything that can help reassure the public that no such conspiracy has taken place in an incident can only help the police—for example in situations where police use of force might be justified and yet facing skeptical public scrutiny. And of course where a use of force is not justified, there's all the more reason to protect against cover-ups. 

 

Walter Scott’s Killing Is a Direct Result of the Current State of Policing in America Today

It’s déjà vu. And it’s also a nightmare.

Police gunning down unarmed black men and boys is an American horror film that keeps getting replayed. Except that it isn’t a movie you can turn off: It’s a painful, outrageous, and unacceptable reality.

The latest iteration is the execution of Walter Scott – pulled over for a traffic violation, and who allegedly owed child support – by a South Carolina police officer. As Scott ran away from the officer, four bullets slammed into his back and one hit his ear. After the shooting, he walked calmly over to Mr. Scott’s body, lying in the grass – and then, for good measure, handcuffed him.

Why was Walter Scott killed? Why does this keep happening?

Did we not just see a South Carolina police officer shoot Levar Jones for trying to retrieve his driver’s license at the officer’s request at a gas station? Did we not just watch Eric Garner, an unarmed man, choked to death in Staten Island while being arrested for selling cigarettes on the street? Are we not still grappling with 12-year-old Tamir Rice being shot and killed in a Cleveland park while playing with a toy gun within seconds of police arriving? Did we not just recoil from images of Michael Brown’s lifeless body left unattended in the street for hours?

Have we not recently heard the testimony of Milton Hall’s mother recalling how her son’s life ended in a barrage of 45 bullets in Saginaw, Michigan? What about the killing of Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee, shot 14 times after an altercation with the police because he was sleeping in a park? Or John Crawford in a Walmart near Dayton, Ohio, gunned down for picking up a BB gun in the sporting goods section?

The list is long, and yet there are hundreds more that haven’t gone viral online or been caught on video.

The tsunami of incidents of police brutality against communities of color has further frayed America’s trust and confidence in police departments to achieve their singular function in our society: to serve and to protect our families and communities. The slaying of Walter Scott shows that all too often the police perform the opposite function, by terrorizing and profiling people of color.

And for what?

Steps to halt this parade of horrors have been taken, but we’re not there yet. We have a long way to go. Recommendations put forth by the President’s Task Force for 21st Century Policing, DOJ’s announcement of resources for pilot sites in six cities aimed at strengthening the bonds between police and citizens, reports of and recommendations to end jaw-dropping racial profiling and selective enforcement of low-level offenses in communities of color – all of these are important efforts. Yet the number of tragic and avoidable killings of people of color continues to mount.

In addition to the steps above, police departments need to shed their abusive and profiling pasts and recommit themselves to the communities they are responsible for serving. This promise must be grounded in the principle of dignity and respect for the community. Police must see their departments and officers as part of the fabric of the community. Police departments need to reconsider their enforcement priorities and to start treating arrests as rare commodities to be used sparingly.

Our country’s addiction to arrests and incarceration has created fear in poorer communities of being arrested for minor, nonviolent offenses, prompting interactions with police that we have seen time and again escalate quickly into unnecessary tragedies. A moment of conjecture: If Walter Scott does not fear that a routine traffic stop or owing money is going to lead to his arrest and possible imprisonment, does he flee from the officer? Is he alive today?

Police need robust training for police officers on de-escalation techniques, relegating force to a last resort. Force should be understood on a continuum that allows for only the minimum force necessary in any given situation. Police need to ban racial profiling, provide implicit bias trainings, and train officers on how to practice procedural justice. When officers or departments violate policy or break the law, those departments and state officials must hold the responsible parties accountable.

We welcome the swift action in this case by North Charleston – undoubtedly propelled here only by the existence of a damning video – in bringing charges against the police officer. Video or no video, prompt investigation and appropriate action following a police shooting – just as with any possible crime –should be the rule nationwide, not the exception.

But these incidents are more than just bad-apple cops: The problem of unjustified lethal force is endemic.

Sadly, we only know part of the story because we have no uniform, comprehensive reporting requirements of police shootings. The data just doesn’t exist. Indeed, even after the many discussions of police force generated by these incidents in recent months, and notwithstanding the DOJ’s documentation of widespread problems around use of force in Cleveland and the use of unreasonable force and racial profiling in Ferguson, we have not been able to reconcile the mandate of fair, constitutional, and humane law enforcement with the current status of American policing.

The unjustified killings of unarmed people of color by police, often arising from racial profiling or enforcement of minor offenses, continue with reckless and tragic abandon. The steps taken by DOJ are very important, but much, much more needs to be done. 

Walter Scott should be alive, and at home. Instead, he’s dead. His death is not an aberration. It is a direct result of the current state of policing in many parts of America today.

Incidents like Walter Scott's slaying are more than just bad-apple cops: The problem of unjustified lethal force is endemic.

Walter Scott’s Killing Is a Direct Result of the Current State of Policing in America Today

It’s déjà vu. And it’s also a nightmare.

Police gunning down unarmed black men and boys is an American horror film that keeps getting replayed. Except that it isn’t a movie you can turn off: It’s a painful, outrageous, and unacceptable reality.

The latest iteration is the execution of Walter Scott – pulled over for a traffic violation, and who allegedly owed child support – by a South Carolina police officer. As Scott ran away from the officer, four bullets slammed into his back and one hit his ear. After the shooting, the officer walked calmly over to Mr. Scott’s body, lying in the grass – and then, for good measure, handcuffed him.

Why was Walter Scott killed? Why does this keep happening?

Did we not just see a South Carolina police officer shoot Levar Jones for trying to retrieve his driver’s license at the officer’s request at a gas station? Did we not just watch Eric Garner, an unarmed man, choked to death in Staten Island while being arrested for selling cigarettes on the street? Are we not still grappling with 12-year-old Tamir Rice being shot and killed in a Cleveland park while playing with a toy gun within seconds of police arriving? Did we not just recoil from images of Michael Brown’s lifeless body left unattended in the street for hours?

Have we not recently heard the testimony of Milton Hall’s mother recalling how her son’s life ended in a barrage of 45 bullets in Saginaw, Michigan? What about the killing of Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee, shot 14 times after an altercation with the police because he was sleeping in a park? Or John Crawford in a Walmart near Dayton, Ohio, gunned down for picking up a BB gun in the sporting goods section?

The list is long, and yet there are hundreds more that haven’t gone viral online or been caught on video.

The tsunami of incidents of police brutality against communities of color has further frayed America’s trust and confidence in police departments to achieve their singular function in our society: to serve and to protect our families and communities. The slaying of Walter Scott shows that all too often the police perform the opposite function, by terrorizing and profiling people of color.

And for what?

Steps to halt this parade of horrors have been taken, but we’re not there yet. We have a long way to go. Recommendations put forth by the President’s Task Force for 21st Century Policing, DOJ’s announcement of resources for pilot sites in six cities aimed at strengthening the bonds between police and citizens, reports of and recommendations to end jaw-dropping racial profiling and selective enforcement of low-level offenses in communities of color – all of these are important efforts. Yet the number of tragic and avoidable killings of people of color continues to mount.

In addition to the steps above, police departments need to shed their abusive and profiling pasts and recommit themselves to the communities they are responsible for serving. This promise must be grounded in the principle of dignity and respect for the community. Police must see their departments and officers as part of the fabric of the community. Police departments need to reconsider their enforcement priorities and to start treating arrests as rare commodities to be used sparingly.

Our country’s addiction to arrests and incarceration has created fear in poorer communities of being arrested for minor, nonviolent offenses, prompting interactions with police that we have seen time and again escalate quickly into unnecessary tragedies. A moment of conjecture: If Walter Scott does not fear that a routine traffic stop or owing money is going to lead to his arrest and possible imprisonment, does he flee from the officer? Is he alive today?

Police need robust training for police officers on de-escalation techniques, relegating force to a last resort. Force should be understood on a continuum that allows for only the minimum force necessary in any given situation. Police need to ban racial profiling, provide implicit bias trainings, and train officers on how to practice procedural justice. When officers or departments violate policy or break the law, those departments and state officials must hold the responsible parties accountable.

We welcome the swift action in this case by North Charleston – undoubtedly propelled here only by the existence of a damning video – in bringing charges against the police officer. Video or no video, prompt investigation and appropriate action following a police shooting – just as with any possible crime –should be the rule nationwide, not the exception.

But these incidents are more than just bad-apple cops: The problem of unjustified lethal force is endemic.

Sadly, we only know part of the story because we have no uniform, comprehensive reporting requirements of police shootings. The data just doesn’t exist. Indeed, even after the many discussions of police force generated by these incidents in recent months, and notwithstanding the DOJ’s documentation of widespread problems around use of force in Cleveland and the use of unreasonable force and racial profiling in Ferguson, we have not been able to reconcile the mandate of fair, constitutional, and humane law enforcement with the current status of American policing.

The unjustified killings of unarmed people of color by police, often arising from racial profiling or enforcement of minor offenses, continue with reckless and tragic abandon. The steps taken by DOJ are very important, but much, much more needs to be done. 

Walter Scott should be alive, and at home. Instead, he’s dead. His death is not an aberration. It is a direct result of the current state of policing in many parts of America today.

Police Chief: Surveillance Cameras Don’t Help Fight Crime

Last month, the police chief of Lincoln, Nebraska announced that the security cameras watching over the city’s downtown bar scene have not proven effective in his department’s efforts to stem criminal activity. Police Chief Jim Peschong said that the recordings hadn’t helped investigators either identify new suspects or bolster evidence against current ones. Peschong also stated that the cameras hadn’t lowered crime in their vicinity: according to Lincoln Police statistics, there were 128 assaults within 500 feet of the cameras last year, numbers that are on par with the department’s five-year average.

There are two important points to be made regarding this announcement. First, it followed a trend of government officials acknowledging the ineffectiveness of some surveillance tools. These announcements often fly under the radar, but it’s worth noting that even the greatest proponents of mass surveillance occasionally admit to its shortcomings.

The second point is that Lincoln’s police department did something that too few authorities do, which is to actually monitor and audit the performance of a surveillance technology. Every agency adopting a new surveillance technology (whether it be a camera, drone, cellphone tracking device, or anything else) should build in a process to evaluate its effectiveness. This will ensure that the agency and the public alike can understand whether they’re getting reasonable returns on both their investment and their privacy sacrifice. People might disagree over how much power we need to give to law enforcement so they can try to stop crime, but if the surveillance that they're doing isn't even effective, then there's no need for debate.

Amy Miller, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Nebraska, told me that the Lincoln Police Department approached the ACLU of Nebraska in July 2013 seeking recommendations on the installation of surveillance cameras downtown. We recommended against the cameras’ installation. We also asked if there would be “an audit scheduled for review of the cameras to determine whether they are effective or whether they should be dismantled” and who would “create the benchmarks for ‘success’ of the cameras?”

While the department went ahead in spite of our opposition, it’s clear that they took the ACLU's point about the importance of conducting evaluations to heart, and it's commendable that Chief Peschong was willing to make a statement based on information gleaned from their audit. While it’s not yet clear whether the department intends to actually remove the cameras, we hope that they will.

Between 2008 and 2011, similar evaluations of surveillance cameras’ effect on law enforcement statistics were conducted in in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington. Most of these reports reached the same conclusions as Lincoln’s. Only Baltimore cameras reportedly had a positive impact on the levels of crime, though the writers of that report also noted that the significant costs associated with the cameras were a deterrent to their continued use.

These evaluations outlined numerous problems caused by the cameras: they pose a heavy financial burden on police departments and cities, produce no positive effect on attempts to mitigate crime, aid practices of discriminatory targeting, and often merely displace crime to unsurveilled areas, which are often economically disadvantaged and more crime-ridden to begin with.

While it bears asking why the government is so intent on using a system that’s costly, ineffective, and adds fuel to the fire of the surveillance state, we can perhaps take some comfort in the knowledge that some officials are also keen on asking these questions. In January, the surveillance camera commissioner for England and Wales, Tony Porter, told reporters that that he regarded a majority of the 4 to 5 million video surveillance cameras in the country as useless—meaning that they failed to deter crime or help manage traffic.

Porter said that local authorities have a responsibility to inform their communities about the effectiveness of security cameras and other surveillance technologies. Such statements would of course require greater regulation and monitoring of the cameras’ utility.

While it’s significant that figures such as Peschong and Porter, who previously advocated for cameras, are now admitting to their flaws, the fact is that most cities continue to roll their security cameras in spite of the data suggesting that they’re not cost effective, and fail to apply appropriate oversight and auditing mechanisms to their surveillance technologies to see if they are even effective. We hope that more authorities will recognize that these cameras (as well as all other surveillance technologies) do not always serve a public good, and will institute regular audits to help them understand when these surveillance systems should be downsized instead of upgraded.

Florida Politicians Want to Pass an Adoption Discrimination Bill That Could Have Denied Me My Perfect Family

My name is Anthony. I’m 16 and I live in Clearwater, Florida, with my moms and three siblings. I was adopted by my parents when I was 13 years old after having spent four years in foster care.

I heard about the bill that the Florida legislature is now considering that would allow child placing agencies—including those who work with children in the foster care system—to refuse to place children with families if the agencies have religious objections to those families, regardless of the needs of the child.

This bill could have prevented me from having the family I have today had it been in effect when I needed a family.

I went into foster care when I was 8 years old because of my biological mother’s addiction to drugs. When her parental rights were terminated a few years later, there was no family available to adopt me. When I was 12, my case manager told me that there was a couple that wanted to adopt me. When she told me who it was, I couldn’t believe it!

Before I was in foster care, I had been friends with their son Peyton and used to go over to his house all the time. Things were not great in my own family, so Peyton’s moms let me hang out a lot at their house, and they became like a substitute family for me. Even though four years had passed since I had seen them, I remembered Peyton and his moms and how it always felt really good and safe to be at their house. It felt like home.

I later learned that the way my moms found out that I was in foster care and in need of a family was that they saw my picture on a website about kids in foster care who were waiting for families to adopt them. When they saw my picture, they said, “That’s our Anthony! We need to go get him!” It’s amazing to me that life brought me back full circle to this family I had loved as a young child.

Being adopted and becoming a permanent member of this family has been the greatest gift of my life. No family is perfect for all kids, but my family is the perfect family for me. I already had a connection with them—I didn’t have to go to a strange place with people I didn’t know and wouldn’t feel comfortable with. And they lived in the same area where I had been living while in foster care, so I was able to stay at my same school and keep my friends. And I really love my parents. They are amazing people. My moms are all about family. And they always look out for me. A lot of my life, I was around iffy people. Now I’m surrounded by great people all the time who just encourage me to do my best and change the world for the better.

I am so thankful that this proposed law didn’t exist when I was waiting for a family to adopt me. I could have been denied the parents that I was clearly meant to have.

Allowing agencies to put their own interests above the needs of the children in their care is so cruel that I can’t understand how my state’s leaders are even considering it. I hope that those voting on this bill will consider my story before they vote, and I beg of them not to do this to kids in foster care.

Being adopted and becoming a permanent member of this family has been the greatest gift of my life.

Florida Politicians Want to Pass an Adoption Discrimination Bill That Could Have Denied Me My Perfect Family

My name is Anthony. I’m 16 and I live in Clearwater, Florida, with my moms and three siblings. I was adopted by my parents when I was 13 years old after having spent four years in foster care.

I heard about the bill that the Florida legislature is now considering that would allow child placing agencies—including those who work with children in the foster care system—to refuse to place children with families if the agencies have religious objections to those families, regardless of the needs of the child.

This bill could have prevented me from having the family I have today had it been in effect when I needed a family.

I went into foster care when I was 8 years old because of my biological mother’s addiction to drugs. When her parental rights were terminated a few years later, there was no family available to adopt me. When I was 12, my case manager told me that there was a couple that wanted to adopt me. When she told me who it was, I couldn’t believe it!

Before I was in foster care, I had been friends with their son Peyton and used to go over to his house all the time. Things were not great in my own family, so Peyton’s moms let me hang out a lot at their house, and they became like a substitute family for me. Even though four years had passed since I had seen them, I remembered Peyton and his moms and how it always felt really good and safe to be at their house. It felt like home.

I later learned that the way my moms found out that I was in foster care and in need of a family was that they saw my picture on a website about kids in foster care who were waiting for families to adopt them. When they saw my picture, they said, “That’s our Anthony! We need to go get him!” It’s amazing to me that life brought me back full circle to this family I had loved as a young child.

Being adopted and becoming a permanent member of this family has been the greatest gift of my life. No family is perfect for all kids, but my family is the perfect family for me. I already had a connection with them—I didn’t have to go to a strange place with people I didn’t know and wouldn’t feel comfortable with. And they lived in the same area where I had been living while in foster care, so I was able to stay at my same school and keep my friends. And I really love my parents. They are amazing people. My moms are all about family. And they always look out for me. A lot of my life, I was around iffy people. Now I’m surrounded by great people all the time who just encourage me to do my best and change the world for the better.

I am so thankful that this proposed law didn’t exist when I was waiting for a family to adopt me. I could have been denied the parents that I was clearly meant to have.

Allowing agencies to put their own interests above the needs of the children in their care is so cruel that I can’t understand how my state’s leaders are even considering it. I hope that those voting on this bill will consider my story before they vote, and I beg of them not to do this to kids in foster care.

Why the War on Drugs is So Bad For Privacy

In 2011, for the 50th anniversary of Richard Nixon's declaration of America's "War on Drugs," I wrote a roundup of some of the ways in which the War on Drugs has eroded privacy. Yesterday's news about the DEA's enormous program to collect Americans' call records is a hell of an addition to the list. But with the DEA story fresh in the headlines, it's important to remember a key point about why the drug war has been so corrosive of privacy: drug use is a victimless crime.

Why does that make it so bad for privacy? Think about it: with an ordinary crime, you have a victim who goes running to the police to tell them about the wrongdoing that has taken place. They have been assaulted, or stolen from, or otherwise wronged, and are hopping mad, and look to the police for justice. If the crime is murder, then the victim's loved ones will do the same. While police might engage in a certain amount of patrolling, for the most part reports of crime come to them.

But when there's no victim, how are the police supposed to find out when the law has been broken? The only way for police to fight victimless crime is to proactively search out wrongdoing: insert themselves into people's lives, monitor their behavior, search their cars, etc. The enforcement of drug laws thus relies disproportionately on surveillance, eavesdropping, and searches of private places and effects. This (and misguided judges) is the reason that the failed War on Drugs has generated so much bad law around privacy and the Fourth Amendment in particular.

It's a simple point, and I'm hardly the first to make it, but it's well worth keeping in mind, and it's one reason that the ACLU generally opposes victimless crimes.

NYCLU-Obtained Documents Reveal Secrecy, Lack of Court Oversight in Use of Invasive Stingray Technology

Last June, the New York Civil Liberties Union asked the Erie County Sheriff's Office to release information to the public about how it uses stingrays, which are used to track and record New Yorkers’ locations via their cell phones, and can collect information on all cell phones in a given area as well as track and locate particular phones. The Sheriff's Office refused, so in November we sued. Last month, a New York state Supreme Court Justice ruled in our favor, telling the Sheriff’s Office that it had to hand these documents over.

Today, NYCLU made public the records that it received in response to that decision—and you are going to want to see them.

The records confirm some of our worst fears about the lack of privacy protections for Erie County residents. It turns out that not only did the Sheriff’s Office promise the FBI breathtaking secrecy to keep information about stingrays as hidden as possible, it implemented almost no privacy protections for the Erie County residents it is sworn to protect and serve.

Some shocking things these records reveal:

  • The Sheriff’s Office used stingrays at least 47 times between May 1, 2010 and October 3, 2014, including assisting other law enforcement departments like the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
  • The office apparently obtained a court order prior to using the device only once in those 47 circumstances, contradicting the sheriff’s statements to a local reporter and the legislature that this device is being used subject to “judicial review.” In the one case a court order was obtained, in October 2014, the sheriff did not obtain a warrant but a lower level court order called a “pen register” order.
  • Its confidentiality agreement with the FBI requires the Sheriff’s Office to maintain almost total secrecy over stingray records, including in court filings and when responding to court orders, unless the Sheriff’s Office receives the written consent of the FBI.
  • Its confidentiality agreement with the FBI also instructs the Sheriff’s Office that the FBI may request it to dismiss criminal prosecutions rather than risk compromising the secrecy of how stingrays are used.

These records include purchase orders, a letter from the stingrays’ manufacturer, a confidentiality agreement between the Sheriff’s Office and the FBI, a procedural manual, and summary reports of times in which the device was used.

The NYCLU wants you to see what Erie County tried so hard to keep hidden, so we’re serving it up on a silver platter. Click here to view the records and further info.

Bigotry Backfires: How a Serious Threat to LGBT Equality Has Turned Into an Asset

Last week, Indiana brought a startling transformation: The primary tactic of opponents of LGBT equality turned instead into a driver of LGBT equality all across the country. 

Over the past several years, opponents of LGBT equality have pushed so-called “religious freedom” laws as their Plan B since their Plan A – just stopping us from winning marriage equality and nondiscrimination protections – is no longer working. These bills aim to give individuals and organizations a license to discriminate against LGBT people and others, all in the name of religion. It’s a strategy we’ve seen before in the context of race, sex, and reproductive rights. Our opponents have put their all into these discriminatory bills, pushing them in 22 states this year. 

But last week in Indiana, Gov. Pence made national headlines when it became clear that the “religious freedom” law he signed was intended to authorize anti-LGBT discrimination. The outcry not only prompted a partial rewrite of the law, but it also included a chorus of national business leaders calling for affirmative LGBT non-discrimination protections nationwide. Our opponents’ primary tactic for undermining our equality has instead begun to highlight for the entire country that LGBT discrimination exists and that LGBT people lack the same civil rights laws that protect many other communities. 

That’s a watershed moment for our movement. 

This fight isn’t over, since we didn’t get affirmative statewide protection from LGBT discrimination in Indiana, and the revised “religious freedom” law still could authorize people to use religion to discriminate or cause harm, including against LGBT people in contexts like schools and access to health care. But the country’s new understanding that these so-called religious freedom laws are designed to authorize discrimination has helped us defeat similar proposals in Georgia and Nevada, pare back another one in Arkansas, and has made prospects for passage much dimmer in North Carolina and Michigan. And the newly invigorated support for LGBT civil rights laws from the business community gives us hope of passing such laws in states and municipalities all across the country. (We’re also working for the day when the country rises up in the same manner against the ways these religious freedom laws can be used against all women.) 

The ACLU is proud to have had a central role in this moment, working with allies in Indiana and nationally. The ACLU of Indiana staffed Freedom Indiana, which was the public face of the LGBT rights movement there and led the successful effort to focus national attention on the state’s license-to-discriminate law. And we worked with our affiliate offices in Arkansas, Georgia, and several other states to narrow or defeat similar bills. Finally, we’re working for LGBT non-discrimination protections in Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. 

It’s not every day that we can turn a serious threat into an asset in our fight for equality. Last week was a tipping point for LGBT equality that we can all celebrate. 

Indiana was a watershed moment for our movement.