Obama Apologized for the Drone Killings of Two Western Victims. What About Everyone Else?

President Obama's recent response to the tragic deaths of two civilians, U.S. citizen Warren Weinstein and Italian citizen Giovanni Lo Porto, in a January 2015 "targeted killing" strike in Pakistan, was remarkable and unprecedented — yet it should not have been.

The president publicly announced the men had mistakenly been killed as a result of a U.S. strike, and he apologized for their deaths. He promised a thorough independent review of their killings. And he said their families would be compensated. All of this was exactly the right thing to do.

But the contrast between the administration's response to the deaths of these Western — and white — civilians and those of the many hundreds of non-Western civilians who have died in the administration's lethal force program is stark and glaring. No other victim's family has received official acknowledgement and an apology, let alone been promised an investigation or compensation.

That's fundamentally unfair, and it increases the hostility against the United States in countries where the CIA and the Pentagon carry out their lethal strikes.

Today, we and other leading rights groups wrote to the president, urging him to "adopt the same approach to all other U.S. counterterrorism strikes in which civilians have been injured or killed — regardless of their nationalities." And we provided him with examples of 10 U.S. strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, with which the administration should start its investigation and acknowledgment. Each of these strikes has been investigated by rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Open Society Foundations, and some by journalists.

All show credible evidence of civilian harm.

They include the first known U.S. cruise missile strike in southern Yemen, in December 2009. That strike, which killed 14 alleged "militants," also killed at least 41 civilians, including 21 children and nine women, five of whom were pregnant at the time. We and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the legal basis for the strike, any investigation into it, and information about any compensation to victims.

The government has refused to provide that information.

Our list of 10 strikes also includes one in Pakistan, in October 2012, in which a woman named Mamana Bibi, aged about 65, was killed while gathering vegetables in her family's fields in a village in North Waziristan. Amnesty International and Reprieve investigated that strike and found that nine children were injured in it, including several of Mamana Bibi's grandchildren.

Of course, the Obama administration — and Congress and the courts — must do much more to ensure meaningful transparency about and oversight over our government's "targeted" killing program. Together with Columbia Law Professor Sarah Knuckey, I recently wrote about the urgent need for robust oversight, and what a full, transparent, outside review of the entire lethal program should look like.

What's also important, and what our letter to President Obama today emphasizes, is that there should be no distinction between the government's response to the killings of Western and non-Western civilians. As we said of non-Western civilians who have died:

The families of those individuals are still seeking redress and accountability, and the continued refusal of your administration even to officially acknowledge their losses compounds their suffering.


All civilian victims of U.S. drone strikes deserve the same recognition the president recently gave two Westerners.

215 Reasons Why Section 215 Needs to Go Away

The pressure is on in Congress, where Section 215 of the Patriot Act is up for expiration come June 1. Our fight to rein in the surveillance state got a historic boost last week, when a federal appeals court ruled the NSA’s mass call-tracking program, the first program to be revealed by Edward Snowden, is illegal.

Yet some members of Congress, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, want to reauthorize Section 215, extending it for five more years. The other legislation on the table, the USA Freedom Act, doesn't go nearly far enough in keeping the personal information of innocent people out of government hands. 

Frankly, we’ve had enough. Which is why we present to you…

215 Reasons Why Section 215 Needs to Go Away: A Fictionalized Soap-Operatic Dramatization of One Person's Life Lived Under Section 215

  1. The NSA can collect and store all data about every phone call you make.
  2. For instance, remember how last month you drunk-dialed your ex 4 times in the middle of the night? Yeah, the NSA knows about that.
  3. They know she didn't call you back.
  4. Remember how the next day you called your therapist five times? They know that, too.
  5. They know your therapist did call you back! Phew!
  6. And that you talked for 2 hours.
  7. They also know that after you talked to your therapist you called your ex 3 more times.
  8. And that she didn't pick up, not even once.

Drunk dialing your ex? The NSA knows about that.

Isn't it time to let unconstitutional and unwarranted government surveillance die?

  1. Turns out that while your ex wasn't picking up your calls, she was on the phone with your best friend. Yup, the NSA knows that.
  2. Your best buddy and your ex have always been close. In fact, the NSA knows they've talked at least once every day since you guys broke up.
  3. Actually, the NSA knows they were calling each other pretty regularly before you broke up, too.
  4. Doesn't it seem unfair that the NSA knows your best buddy and your ex are talking on the phone constantly but you don't?
  5. Because at the end of each day, major phone companies hand over to the NSA records of who called whom, when, and for how long.
  6. Did you know that the NSA could also use Section 215 to track your financial records without getting a warrant?
  7. That night you drunk-dialed your ex? The NSA can use some fancy data correlation techniques to figure out that after you bought a whole lot of drinks at the bar, you went and got a tank of gas.
  8. And that you got an egg and cheese sandwich at the deli the next morning.
  9. And that Bloody Mary you got at the White Horse Tavern at 10am with your credit card. Hair of the dog? No one wants the NSA to know about their morning cocktail.

Don't think the NSA should have access to your financial records without a warrant? Tell Congress.

  1. Having a rough weekend, aren't you, buddy? The NSA knows all about it. You might want to consider using cash and a burner phone.
  2. Ah, Monday. Time for you and the NSA to settle in to a slow day at the office, and some web searches about your ex. Can you believe she posted those photos online?
  3. The NSA might know that when you chatted with your best buddy about those photos, he was also chatting with your ex. That's not cool.
  4. Under Section 215, the NSA may also be collecting hotel records.
  5. About those hotel records. Your best buddy and your ex? Yeah… Sometimes the NSA knows things you don't ever wanna know.
  6. As adorably archaic as it may sound, the NSA can also collect library records.
  7. So, for example, when your ex took out "The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships"? Mmmhmmm.
  8. And how she also took out "How to Cheat on Your Boyfriend with His Best Friend And Get Away with It"? We're kidding. That book doesn't exist. But if it did and she took it out, the NSA might know.
  9. If only the NSA also offered relationship counseling services. They know more about you than your therapist does!
  10. What else could the NSA collect under Section 215? Prescription records, for one.
  11. Do you think the NSA has put together the Viagra prescription you never got filled with your ex's frequent phone calls to your best buddy?
  12. We're not saying those two things are linked, but you never know what connections the NSA is making. They do have those high-powered data crunching algorithms, after all.

That pro-marijuana group you joined in college? The NSA might know about that.

Don't let this invasion of privacy get five more years to live! Section 215 should expire today.

  1. This Monday sure won't end. Good thing you called your therapist and scheduled an emergency midday session. And good thing the NSA is keeping logs of all those calls. Just in case!
  2. Except you told your boss you have an off-site meeting. Let's hope your boss and the NSA never compare notes. Because under Section 215 or related Patriot Act provisions, the NSA may also be collecting your cell phone location information.
  3. So, for example, when you stop at the drug store after your "off-site meeting" to fill your therapist's prescription for sleeping pills?
  4. Lots of juicy data for the NSA! Maybe next time don't drive 80 mph down the highway, mkay?
  5. And, of course, there are the details about the actual prescription.
  6. Do you really want the NSA to know that you just got the last batch a week ago and already need a refill?
  7. Are they really getting all of this this without a warrant?
  8. Without having to prove that you've done anything wrong?
  9. Why on earth does the NSA get to know all your embarrassing secrets?
  10. Even all that stuff you're hiding from your ex, your best buddy, your therapist?

Does Section 215 sound grim yet? Sign to protect your privacy.

  1. Your pal Jack always manages to cheer you up. Give him a call. After all, if we don't call our nearest and dearest to say hi, the crack phone surveillance team at the National Security Agency might get bored.
  2. Did you know that Jack has recently made some rather unsavory acquaintances?
  3. Don't worry - the NSA does.
  4. There's this awesome thing called "two hop" collection under Section 215. It allows the NSA to link you to Jack's new "friends" for years to come.
  5. Did we mention how unsavory they are? They're not exactly the folks you'd invite over for a barbeque, that's for sure. But that sure did pique the NSA's interest!
  6. Let's do some fun NSA "two hop" math: if you have 100 contacts, and those folks have 100 contacts, that's 10,000 people.
  7. If one of those 10,000 has come under suspicion, time to flag you and your data for a super special database!
  8. Sure hope none of those 10,000 people have ever done something unsavory. Uh, thanks Jack.

Your ex spending all her time on the phone with your best friend? The NSA knows about that.

Section 215 needs to go away. Seriously.

  1. Even after talking to Jack, you're still feeling a little blue. Maybe a quick heart-to-heart with your Rabbi will help?
  2. Guess what? The NSA also collects information about communications between faith leaders and congregants!
  3. You give Rabbi Val a call. Data point collected and stored.
  4. The fact that you were on the phone with her for 35 minutes? Yes, they know that.
  5. Oh, and get this! The NSA could also request a list of anyone else who worships at your synagogue.
  6. Or your co-worker Ahmed's mosque - they could be tracking everyone who worships there, just because.
  7. In fact, the NSA could request a list of people who belong to any organization, like, say, an environmental group.
  8. That $50 donation you made to protect naked mole rats? Under Section 215, an organization's records, papers, and documents could be collected.
  9. What would the NSA do with lists of environmentalists, anyway? Sorry buddy, there's no way to find out what they're doing with it.
  10. Doesn't that seem a little Orwellian? Even naked mole rats might agree. A federal judge did. But that didn't stop the NSA.
  11. Come to think about it, what about that group you dabbled with in college, the pro-marijuana-legalization activists? (Everyone has a wild phase in college, right?) Mmmmm more data!
  12. Under Section 215, that membership list could be collected, too. Wild phase notwithstanding.

Don't think your wild phase in college should be fair game for NSA databases? If thousands of us join together and shout it from the rooftops (or every major newspaper in America) maybe Congress will finally get the message.

  1. Don't think records of your wild phase in college should be collected in the name of national security?
  2. Unfortunately the NSA's massive databases often don't make the distinction between youthful exploration, mundane communications, and criminal behavior.
  3. Another slow day at work means more hours to kill. Just watch out for those search terms - the NSA might try to peek into your search history.
  4. It might also think it can get records of which web pages you visited.
  5. Too bad it's not just your IT department that might be able to see that you spent an entire hour looking at photos of interspecies animal friendships.
  6. And another hour looking at your cute co-worker's Facebook page.
  7. But it's a good thing you're scheduling some plans for the week - things have been rough and you should stay busy. And keep the NSA busy, right?
  8. Good thing you marked 'Going' on that Facebook event post for Sunday's Black Lives Matter protest. I'm sure the NSA would like to know about that.
  9. We're especially glad you RSVP'd online for that demonstration for reproductive rights. Is the NSA glad, too? Sure, why not!
  10. Oh, and speaking of… That call your ex made that one time to the abortion clinic? You guessed it: logged by the NSA.
  11. The NSA's dragnet applies to First Amendment-protected activities, too.
  12. All this without a probable cause warrant! Ain't life grand (if you're the NSA).

Called an abortion clinic? The NSA knows about that.

Why is your private life the government's business? NSA stop snooping!

  1. Hey it's your grandpa's 85th birthday. Happy birthday! The NSA is glad you're calling him.
  2. Though his call to his doctor about his gout right after you spoke? That we'd rather not have the NSA know about. His health is none of the government's business.
  3. Your grandfather - not exactly a fan of big government - is pretty upset about it too. He's threatening to stop calling his doctor and now your mom is freaking out too.
  4. (Maybe his rants all these years about Big Brother watching him weren't so far off, after all.)
  5. Your mom keeps calling about your grandpa, which is really cutting into your workplace web surfing. Those calls are - you guessed it - logged!
  6. Again, good thing HR and the NSA don't trade notes… yet.
  7. Wow, she really wants you to go visit him in Florida. You better start searching for flights online.
  8. Did you know that the government could be using information collected through Section 215 to put people on various watchlists, including the No Fly List?
  9. Too bad we don't even know the criteria for ending up on the watchlist. Yet another example of the government's shady, unconstitutional practices in the name of national security.
  10. Anyway, you probably won't end up on the No Fly List, but if you do, you won't know till you buy a ticket and try to board the flight to visit grandpa. Good luck with that.

Think that the NSA should require a probable cause warrant to use your records against you? You're not alone.

  1. Speaking of web surfing and grandpa's ailments, you type some search terms to figure out what the heck that weird rash on your leg is from. Under Section 215, that search history might even be collected. Gross.
  2. (Come to think of it, what other phrases have you searched online lately…?)
  3. (I mean, there was that one time, when you searched for something innocent but ended up on that VERY non-innocent site. Total accident. The NSA will understand that, right?)
  4. You also take a few pictures of your rashy leg to send to your pal who's a nurse. You name them "sexy_legs.jpg" - hmmmm, that file name, too, could be made available to the NSA.
  5. Which reminds you of that semester in college when you sent some slightly risqué photos to your girlfriend at the time. Filenames "treasure_trail.jpg" and "TheCaptain.jpg"?
  6. Might want to think about leaving the suggestive shots called "IMG_011938456.jpg" for next time, eh? You don't want to attract unwanted attention.

Been talking to your rabbi on the phone? The NSA knows about that.

Heard enough? Sign to tell Congress to stop this unwarranted violation of your privacy - let 215 die!

  1. Remember back to 2001? That's when Congress quickly shuffled the Patriot Act including Section 215 into law. Most legislators didn't even read it before voting for it.
  2. It was just weeks after the 9/11 attacks and legislators were under immense political pressure to vote for the bill - even if they didn't really understand it.
  3. The bill was hundreds of pages long after all and super complicated. Politicians should be expected to read and understand something before signing, right?
  4. I mean Congress is so busy. There's lots to do in the 100 days a year our representatives work.
  5. And it was a really stressful and scary time, remember? They had to show they were doing something post 9/11, doing anything. So no time for followup questions - just to vote for something, anything. Especially a law called the 'Patriot Act'.
  6. But the Patriot Act opened the floodgates for the worst abuses of government spying powers our country has ever seen.
  7. The NSA uses Section 215 to scoop up ALL of your call records, every single day, to get front-row access to your most intimate details.
  8. And ours. Let me tell you, we're not so happy about this. Are you?

Whaddya think? Should the NSA get another five more years of unlimited spying powers?

  1. Even the author of the Patriot Act, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, agrees the NSA is misusing the Patriot Act by collecting your call data.
  2. He said "Americans are increasingly wary that Washington is violating the privacy rights guaranteed to us by the Fourth Amendment." Damn skippy, I think he's onto something there.
  3. The pressure was so high that only one senator voted against the Patriot Act when it was proposed.
  4. That was Russ Feingold. And guess what he was most worried about? The unconstitutional use of Section 215. (Hmmm, maybe he actually read the whole thing).
  5. Well, his warnings were not heard. And now the NSA uses Section 215's power to collect vast amounts of your information without a warrant. Yes, you heard me right, no warrant required.
  6. Maybe Congress should have read this before making it law? Especially when it affects all our lives, and messes with our privacy?
  7. They did do one thing right though - they built in an expiration for key provisions of the Patriot Act!

Say NO to government spying. C'mon Congress, let Section 215 die already.

  1. So who else thinks NSA spying under 215 is bad? Well, a federal judge called it Orwellian and likely unconstitutional.
  2. Orwellian! Like the totalitarian anti-utopian regime that George Orwell described in his novel 1984. Basically, a total nightmare.
  3. Guess who else? The White House! President Obama's review group found NSA mass surveillance under Section 215 ineffective in stopping terrorism.
  4. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board came to the same conclusion. They analyzed classified files and found zero evidence that the NSA phone-records program ever played a pivotal role in any investigation.
  5. And last week, if you haven't heard yet, a federal appeals court ruled it illegal!
  6. Sounds like every branch of government thinks it's a bad idea. Well, almost every branch. Some members of Congress are trying to extend it for another 5 years.
  7. Ever made a bad decision and wished you could reverse it?

RSVP'd on Facebook to a #BlackLivesMatter protest? The NSA could know about that.

Section 215 was always a bad idea. Now's the chance to fix it.

  1. Maybe it's time to call it a day and head to the bar. Since you're never far from your cellphone, the NSA could come along for the ride.
  2. Or maybe they're collecting the E-ZPass information that registered when you crossed the bridge.
  3. Mmmm, you sure you want to pay with a credit card? That third G&T could raise some NSA eyebrows after last weekend's bender.
  4. Glad you're making new friends in your time of need. That guy you met at the bar who you called so he'd have your number? Logged!
  5. You paid with cash? Good move. Oh but it was cash withdrawn from the bar's ATM? Yeah they could get a record of that too.
  6. Speaking of, it seems pretty clear from your bank info that you're not gonna be making your mortgage payment on time this month. Hopefully no one at the NSA will be telling your bank where you're spending your money.
  7. You sure you wanna be getting in your car in your state?
  8. Be careful, friend. How about you keep your eyes on the road rather than on the numbers you're dialing? Yes, those calls are logged, too. Every single one.
  9. Ugh, another rough night. Good call on the Ibuprofen you picked up at the corner store. The NSA no doubt agrees.
  10. At least you're too tired to log onto some of those websites you'd rather keep private.
  11. (You know the websites we mean.)
  12. And to call your ex. Again.
  13. These days, it can be safer to avoid communication altogether.
  14. What about that "reform" bill you've been reading about, that the Senate is considering? The aptly named USA Freedom Act. (Freedom and Patriot, who is naming these bills?)
  15. Could salvation from an all-seeing surveillance apparatus be around the corner?
  16. Sorry buddy. That bill wouldn't stop the NSA from being able to collect huge amounts of information about you. Or us.

Tell Congress: Section 215 should expire today.

  1. This week is dragging on and you can't stop thinking about how your ex is now with your (ex) best friend. Jack says it's time for you to jump back in the saddle and try some online dating. But how awkward would it be if the NSA demanded records about your Tinder swipes? After all, many private companies do share data with the NSA.
  2. Browsing 'Missed Connections' on Craigslist, you see a super cute posting and call Cindy to see if she wants to check out the new Mexican spot near your apartment. Thanks to its bulk collection of call records, the NSA rarely misses a connection.
  3. That date was a total disaster. You’d rather forget it, but the NSA might not forget that you paid $100 for that disaster.
  4. And your mom called mid-date. Yeah, the NSA knows about that too, though your date didn't. Not sure she believed that it was your "stock broker."
  5. The NSA knows it wasn't your "stock broker" – because they know you don't own stocks! Under Section 215, they can track your financial records without getting a warrant.
  6. Does it matter that you've done nothing wrong, and there's no probable cause? Nope, the NSA can still get lots of juicy details about your private life by tracking your communications.
  7. Let's just hope they don't see another credit card charge for the White Horse Tavern on your way home. (How many times this week does that make?)
  8. And be careful about what websites you hit after a night like tonight. Paying by credit card to download that risqué new movie? That could be tracked.

Texted a picture titled sex_legs.jpg? The NSA knows about that.

Why would we agree to give this law five more years? Tell Congress it's time for Section 215 of the Patriot Act to go away.

  1. Can't sleep and the pills aren't helping? Too late to call the therapist? It's a dark place to be in, made worse if the NSA knows about your call to a suicide hotline.
  2. They know you talked for 20 minutes. (And we're glad you got the support and guidance you needed to be able to finally drift off.)
  3. Hit snooze too many times on the alarm clock? The NSA knows you called your boss; unclear if your boss actually believed you were late because of train delays.
  4. Can they really get all of this information without proving that you're connected to a crime and without getting a warrant? Really?!
  5. The NSA really doesn't have to prove you've done anything wrong to track all your phone records?
  6. Why do they need to know about all of your intimate conversations? Your secrets are none of their business!
  7. This isn't science fiction – as made clear by Snowden's revelations two years ago, big brother really IS watching.
  8. Ohhhhhhhh – Grandpa was right all along!
  9. I mean, it's starting to seem like all of the normal activities you do online or on your phone every day could be spied on by the NSA, even though you haven't actually done anything wrong!
  10. (And those activities might not paint a very flattering picture at the moment. But you're not a bad person! Really!)

Government mass surveillance assumes everyone is guilty. Tell Congress this can't continue.

  1. The weight of it all is really starting to get to you. I mean, you're not a conspiracy nut. But they might know EVERYTHING about you! Prescription medication history! Ex-girlfriend's abortion clinic call! Financial transactions! Phone calls to your mom!
  2. It's enough to make you want to go totally off-grid, man. Throw away your cell phone. Get rid of your GPS. Avoid using email. Letters!! You'll only send letters! Yes!!!
  3. And that Great American Novel you were writing on your laptop – that one about that guy who leaves it all behind and sets out on a road trip with his parrot in a quest for higher consciousness – it's starting to feel like nothing digital is safe from surveillance these days. Maybe you'll take your literary aspirations to paper, too.
  4. You don't want anyone to get a record of the fact that you have been writing a novel about your journey into "higher consciousness."
  5. They might think that reflects poorly on your mental state. Then again, so would finding out that you are spending hours alone scribbling into a tattered notebook.
  6. Who are you kidding. You can't remember the last time you picked up a pen and your handwriting is atrocious. Guess you'll have to take a break from your literary aspirations.
  7. It's a shame that fear of NSA spying is killing your art, but better safe than sorry, right?
  8. By now your whole family is worried you're having a nervous breakdown. Grandpa called Mom, and Mom called everyone else, and now they're calling you during work nonstop, and the NSA knows about all of the calls.
  9. Aunt Sue from Wisconsin called to ask about your breakup (she had high hopes for you two!), which was decidedly unhelpful to your delicate mental state.
  10. The NSA knows that you were on the phone with her for over an hour in the afternoon while at work. They don't know you put the phone on mute and popped a roll of bubble wrap while she droned on. (Thankfully Aunt Sue doesn't know that either).

Took $100 from the ATM? The NSA could know about that.

Want to protect your privacy – and Aunt Sue's too? Don't let Congress extend its mass surveillance programs through the Patriot Act.

  1. Now that you're avoiding calls from your entire extended family, maybe your therapist can prescribe you something to help you cope with your acute anxiety?
  2. Of course the NSA could track your call to your therapist, and your prescription for anxiety pills. But you already knew that.
  3. When it comes to self-help, they can also track your reading habits: including that online search for "massage therapy for stress" (which takes you to some very not-safe-for-work websites. Although they do look pretty relaxing…)
  4. Even offline, it continues: including your visit to the library to check out "The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are." The NSA can get your library records? Yep, you know the drill.
  5. I mean, the NSA should write a book about anxiety since they contribute so much to our collective stress level by spying on our private communications. That would be a best seller! If a somewhat depressing one.
  6. C'mon NSA. Maybe you should just let it [Section 215 of the Patriot Act] go. Let it go....
  7. (Your niece loves that "Let it Go" song from Frozen – sometimes she calls you to sing it to you. Yep, the NSA knows about those calls).
  8. Here you are, in this dark troubled place, bruised from your breakup, trying to get help and support from wherever you can – and the NSA is tracking your every distraught move.
  9. Abuse of power is abuse of power, and you probably wouldn't want them spying even if you were having the best day ever. Which you most certainly are not.
  10. How do they even justify this massive intrusion into your life? Apparently it's for national security, though a presidential review board found there was no evidence at all that the NSA's massive surveillance program has ever made a substantial impact in any terrorist investigation.
  11. So why all the spying, NSA? Whom, exactly, is this really helping?
  12. (You stop to do a web search for "who vs. whom" – the NSA appreciates your desire for grammatical exactitude.)
  13. So if the NSA isn't getting any useful information, merely collecting untold terabytes of data on innocent Americans and their intimate activities, why wouldn't someone have found this to be illegal?
  14. Funny you should ask – did we mention that the NSA's phone tracking program was just ruled illegal by a federal appeals court?
  15. So we have ineffective and illegal. And far-reaching. And abusive. And...

What more does Congress need to scrap this mass surveillance of our lives and relationships? Let Section 215 die.

To be continued! Stay tuned for Part 4, coming soon to this page, or sign up for ACLU Action emails to receive it straight to your inbox.


A fictionalized soap-operatic dramatization of one person’s life lived under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The United States Considers Itself a Human Rights Champion. The World Begs to Differ.

Starting Monday, the United States' human rights record will be subject to international scrutiny by the U.N. Human Rights Council. It may just be the perfect catalyst for the Obama administration to make good on past and present wrongs that should never be associated with a liberal democracy predicated on respect for human rights.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is part of a regular examination of the human rights records of all 193 U.N. member countries and will be the second review of its kind for the U.S. since 2010.  The review comes at a critical time when the U.S. human rights record has been criticized for falling short of meeting international human rights standards. From racially biased policing and excessive use of force by law enforcement to the expansion of migrant family detention and from the lack of accountability for the CIA torture program to the use of armed drones abroad, the U.S. has a lot to answer for.

But the U.S. review presents an opportunity for President Obama to shape his human rights legacy. He not only has the chance to continue to hold state and local governments in the U.S. accountable for abusive and biased policing practices, but he can also establish a positive policy at the federal level such as ending racial and ethnic profiling and holding federal agencies responsible for unlawful and discriminatory practices, including border killings and surveillance of Muslim communities.

The world will be asking hard questions of a country that considers itself a human rights champion, and, as the UPR represents the final human rights review of the Obama administration, it will be expecting meaningful answers and a concrete plan of action, including in the area of economic justice, which the U.S. submission to the Human Rights Council regrettably referred to as social and economic "measures" rather than the universally accepted framework and terminology of "rights."

What human rights legacy will the president leave behind in January 2017? Will President Obama be remembered as a leader who approved secret kill-lists, institutionalized the use of indefinite detention, and failed to end unlawful surveillance practices? Or will the president endorse accountability for torture and provide an apology and reparations for victims, including the 26 former CIA detainees who the U.S. Senate torture report found were wrongfully detained? Will President Obama heed the recommendations made by former Justice John Paul Stevens, who this week called the government to compensate some of the Guantanamo detainees, or will he be seen as the president who turned a blind eye to injustice?

Will the president be remembered for expanding immigrant family detention and using it as deterrence factor to discourage migrants and asylum seekers, including mothers and children, from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, or will he leave a legacy of a more fair and humane immigration system that endorses alternatives to detention?

Finally, will we hear more rhetoric and empty promises, like in 2010, or concrete commitments and a plan of action that will prove that President Obama means what he says when it comes to defending human dignity and upholding international law?

The Obama administration has an opportunity to right these wrongs and set a higher bar and better example for both future administrations and other countries. On Monday, the world will be watching to see whether the Obama administration will stand on the right side of history.

Watch the live cast at 9 a.m., Geneva time (3 a.m. EST), on May 11 here:

The U.N. will scrutinize the United States’ human rights record and give President Obama a chance to right past wrongs.

Why Are We Still Asking if a Dying Woman Should Be Able to Get an Abortion to Save Her Life?

A recent analysis of abortion attitudes by The New York Times came to the right conclusion: The divide on how Americans feel about abortion is much smaller than partisan politics would have us believe.

But there's a bigger idea that the piece in the Times — and the poll it relies on — missed: All too often, we're still asking the wrong questions when it comes to gauging public opinion on abortion. We're too focused on questions at the margins — death versus abortion, rape, and incest or abortion under all circumstances or no circumstances. These questions do little to illuminate the reality of most women's lives and the range of feelings people have about abortions that happen in the real world.

Much of the piece centers on how Americans feel about two questions. The first is whether a woman who needs an abortion to save her life should be able to get one. Why are we still asking this? Is whether a woman should be forced to die rather than have an abortion really still up for debate when it comes to public opinion? I don't think so.

The other question examined at length concerns a woman who wants an abortion because of the sex of the baby. To set the record straight, that's a largely imagined scenario, designed in part by abortion opponents to communicate the stigmatizing idea that a woman who has decided to have an abortion is doing so for a frivolous reason.  Not to mention that it's racist, relying on ugly stereotypes about women of color. Asking this question doesn't get at any kind of truth on abortion attitudes.

I'm thrilled that the analysis in the Times' got the real answer. But it's still not asking the right questions.

Women have abortions for complex reasons — to better take care of the children they already have, to pursue an education or career and improve their life circumstances, or simply because they know they are not in a position to be the best parent they can be.

For many years, it's been clear that when you ask people about how abortion impacts real women's lives — instead of party-line questions about abortion under all circumstances or no circumstances — you get surprising answers and high levels of agreement.

Vox recently took this wholly different approach. Instead of asking the standard questions, the poll asked questions like:

"Which comes closer to your view: The law says a woman has a right to an abortion. As long as this is the law, women should have access to safe and affordable abortion care. Or even though there is a right to abortion, we should work to reduce abortions by making it harder for women to access care."


"Think about a woman who has decided to have an abortion. How would you want that experience to be for her?"

And even:

"If a close family member or friend told you she decided to have an abortion, would you give her a lot of support?"

When you ask these types of questions, a much deeper, more nuanced, and more accurate picture of attitudes on abortion appears. In that picture, it's clear that Americans are in overwhelming agreement that a woman who has decided to get an abortion should be able to get one without additional hurdles. They're in overwhelming agreement that we shouldn't be passing laws that make a woman who has decided to get an abortion feel ashamed about her decision.

And Americans agree that lawmakers who are determined to restrict access to abortion are moving our country in the wrong direction.

Buried in the Times piece, even with it's strange focus on scenarios that have little connection to most abortions, is one clear truth: "Focusing on the exact details of abortion decisions may reveal more about when Americans agree on this difficult issue than when they disagree."

It's time to stop asking questions at the margins and focus on real women's lives.

Newark’s New Cop Watch Board Should Be a National Model for Police Accountability

Since 1967, when five days of violent clashes between police and community members left 26 dead and hundreds injured, residents of my great city of Newark have protested police abuse and impunity. A reminder of one of their most desired reforms sits on my desk: a sepia-toned photo of civil rights marchers with signs demanding the creation of a civilian review board to provide citizen oversight of the police.

Nearly 50 years of fortitude later, those demands were finally fulfilled last week when Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, flanked by activists and the police director in the grand rotunda at city hall, signed an executive order creating a strong and independent civilian complaint review board to review allegations of police misconduct.

This new initiative constitutes an enormous victory for Newark, but its importance doesn't end at the borders of New Jersey's largest city. As one of the strongest police oversight boards in the country, Newark's civilian review board has national implications, especially at a time when police shootings of unarmed Black men in Baltimore and Ferguson have started a nationwide conversation about accountability.

A three-year U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation last summer showed years and years of widespread civil and human rights abuses. Among the most shocking statistics: The DOJ found that out of the hundreds of excessive force complaints filed against Newark police officers from 2007 to 2012, the department's internal affairs division sustained just one. A consent decree will soon be entered and a federal monitor appointed to oversee reforms to the department.

Yet Newark is far from unique. Department of Justice investigations of major American cities' police departments like Cleveland, New Orleans, and Seattle have found the same kinds of egregious lapses. Newark's new review board can serve as a model of first steps other cities can take to rein in their police departments that too often see the people they watch over as the enemy.

The review board, which is among the strongest in the nation, is meant to outlast the DOJ's consent decree and provide civilian oversight for years to come. Not only will it have the power to subpoena records and police officer testimony, it will have the rare power to make its disciplinary decisions stick. In order to reject the review board's findings, the police director must determine that the board committed "clear error," a high standard to meet. The board will also audit department policies and procedures, and it will issue public reports of data on interactions with the public.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka at the signing ceremony for the city's new independent civilian complaint review board.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka at the signing ceremony for the city's new independent civilian complaint review board. April 30, 2015.

For Newark's police department, too, the creation of this civilian review board is an opportunity to reset community relations. Our police director, Eugene Venable, believes public safety depends on the police department and residents working together. That partnership requires trust, and a civilian review board helps build that trust by making our police department more accountable and transparent.

My hometown, like too many American cities, has more than its share of problems and systemic injustices, and no problem eclipses the fraught interactions Newarkers have with their police department. For many members of my community, there is no such thing as a positive encounter with the police, a problem that reverberates in communities across the country.

I grew up hearing the same kinds of stories of discrimination and impunity that pushed people into the streets of Baltimore and Ferguson; the same stories told by friends of Walter Scott in South Carolina and the parents of Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Friends were thrown by police against walls for walking in the "wrong" neighborhood. Mothers and fathers were harassed by police about their children. I saw the anger and despair of residents on the losing end of police violence and abuse.

Now, for the first time in a very long time, Newarkers will have a way to be heard and a promise of due diligence. Because of this, there's new hope that the police and the communities they protect and serve will come together to make the streets safer for everyone because we're no longer asking, "Who will guard the guardians?" Now we have the answer we struggled so long for: the people of Newark will.

It's a model other cities and towns should follow as the events of Ferguson and Baltimore demonstrate how critical police reform is in communities across America today.

I have no doubt the civilian complaint review board will change Newark. To quote Mayor Baraka, "The transformation of our police department leads to the transformation of our city." To expand on that vision, the transformation of our nation's police departments can lead to the transformation of our nation.

The board will have the power to subpoena records and police testimony and make disciplinary decisions stick.

Why Today’s Landmark Court Victory Against Mass Surveillance Matters

In a landmark victory for privacy, a federal appeals court ruled unanimously today that the mass phone-records program exposed two years ago by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is illegal because it goes far beyond what Congress ever intended to permit when it passed Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The ruling in ACLU v. Clapper is enormously significant, and not only because the program in question — the first to be revealed by Edward Snowden  is at the heart of a legislative reform effort playing out right now, or because it sparked the most significant debate about government surveillance in decades. The decision could also affect many other laws the government has stretched to the breaking point in order to justify dragnet collection of Americans’ sensitive information.

Under the program, revealed in the Guardian on June 5, 2013, telecommunications companies hand over to the NSA, on a daily basis, records relating to the calls of all of their customers. Those records include information about who called whom, when, and for how long. The ACLU sued the NSA over the program just days after it was revealed, and we took the case to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals after it was dismissed by a district court.

A few points on what makes the decision so important.

1. It recognizes that Section 215 of the Patriot Act does not authorize the government to collect information on such a massive scale. Section 215 allows the government to demand from third parties “any tangible thing” relevant to foreign intelligence or terrorism investigations. “Relevant” is a pretty abstract term, but the government employed a pretty fantastical interpretation to argue that every single call record in America is “relevant” because some of those records might come in handy in a future investigation.

The decision says:

Excerpt from 2nd Circuit ruling on NSA call records program.

2. The decision’s significance extends far beyond the phone records program alone. It implicates other mass spying programs that we have learned about in the past two years and  almost certainly ­— others that the government continues to conceal from the public. For example, we know that the Drug Enforcement Administration, for decades, employed a similar definition of “relevance” to amass logs of every call made from the United States to as many as 116 different countries. The same theory was also used to justify the collection of email metadata. Both those programs have been discontinued, but the legal reasoning hasn’t, and it could very well be the basis for programs the government has never acknowledged to the public, including the CIA’s bulk collection of Americans’ financial records.

The judges wrote:

Excerpt from 2nd Circuit decision on NSA call records program.

3. Metadata is incredibly sensitive and revealing. The government has long argued that the phone records program doesn’t reveal the contents of calls, and as such, it is not an invasion of privacy. But metadata, especially in aggregate, can be just as revealing as content, painting a detailed picture of a person’s life.  The decision reads:

Excerpt from 2nd Circuit Court decision in NSA call records program case.

4. The importance of adversarial review. The court recognized that public, adversarial litigation concerning the lawfulness of this spying program was vitally important to its decision  and it drew a direct contrast to the secret, one-sided proceedings that occur in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The FISC operates in near-total secrecy, in which it almost always hears only from the government. It oversees a wide variety of broad surveillance programs without any public participation or input, approving a body of secret law that has no place in a democracy. This decision affirms the role that federal courts — and the public  have in overseeing practices with such sweeping constitutional implications.

5. The congressional reforms under consideration just don’t cut it. Ahead of Section 215’s sunset on June 1, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is trying to push through a straight reauthorization of the provision, extending its life by another five years. After today’s decision came down, he took to the floor to defend the program — a position altogether at odds with the appeals court decision, with the conclusions of multiple executive-branch review groups who found the program hasn’t been effective in stopping terrorism, and with the clear consensus that supports far-reaching surveillance reform. Another bill in play (which the ACLU neither supports nor opposes), the USA Freedom Act of 2015, doesn’t go nearly far enough, most notably in ensuring that the government cannot engage in broad collection of innocent Americans’ private information.

We didn’t do this alone. Members of Congress  Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) among them  have played an instrumental role in the fight for surveillance reform. Along with a number of organizations and experts, including the NRA, they filed amicus briefs on the ACLU’s behalf and championed the cause in Congress.

We hope that today’s ruling prompts Congress to consider and enact legislation that’s more robust than what’s currently on the table. Short of that, we continue to believe that Congress should seize the June 1 expiration date as an opportunity to let Section 215 die. 

Five reasons why the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision is so important to Americans' privacy.


Nebraska recently made national headlines when someone filed a lawsuit here against all "homosexuals." While this lawsuit is clearly bunk and has already been dismissed, as a Nebraskan who is fighting for equal treatment of LGBT people in my home state, I would be remiss if I didn't use this as an opportunity to share the stories of those who are fighting alongside us.

There was a time I didn't know how my fellow Nebraskans felt about my marriage, or maybe didn't want to know. I was nervous to tell my neighbors in Norfolk that my wife Crystal and I were plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to have our marriage recognized by the state. (The suit has been put on hold until the Supreme Court rules in marriage cases pending before it, which is expected in June). We decided to join the lawsuit because the state's refusal to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples causes serious hardship to our family and many other Nebraska families.

Carla & Crystal

The state of Nebraska's disregard of our marriage meant that Crystal, who served as a Navy corpsman deployed with the Marines to Iraq, was denied a Veterans Administration home loan available to other married veterans, and my daughter is denied college tuition assistance provided to step-children of veterans. For one of my fellow plaintiffs, the marriage exclusion means that she has to face stage IV breast cancer with the added stress of knowing that after she passes, her wife and children may not be able to remain in the family home because her wife will be denied important financial protections afforded to widows. For another plaintiff couple, the non-recognition of their marriage means their young daughter can have legal ties to only one of her two parents.

I am reminded almost daily of the values and morals that being a Midwesterner carries. The respect and compassion shown by so many reminds me why I call Norfolk home: We all believe in hard work, family, community, neighbors, and standing up for what is right. Freedoms are guaranteed by the blood, sweat, and tears of military members here at home and abroad. The same blood that Crystal, as a corpsman, wore on her hands trying to send those men and women home. It became my duty to stand up and say, "No more … no less … just equal."

Because we knew we needed to do something to put an end to this harmful treatment, we became part of the lawsuit despite what we expected to be whispered in the supermarket. But contrary to our expectations, the response in our community has been fully supportive. We've been met with respect and understanding, even when someone has said they disagree.

Take my coworker. He told me that he and his wife consider themselves strong Christians and have been following the case closely because it made both of them think about where they stood on the issue. I braced myself for a negative comment. Instead he said, "It is my job as a Christian to show God's love and not judge. The people denying rights are not showing the love of God and continuing to do so is not forward progress and not Christian love." He then thanked me for opening his eyes and helping him realize why he needed to take a stand.

There are many more people like my coworker than the filer of the bizarre lawsuit against all "homosexuals." Over 3,000 of my fellow Nebraskans have signed a petition asking our state to end discriminatory policies in our workplaces and schools and in our healthcare and foster care systems. We just need our laws to catch up. And we believe soon enough they will because of the love and support we feel every day in our communities.

Even in a red state like Nebraska, my wife and I find love and solidarity wherever we turn.

If You Care About the American Dream, You Should Care About Neighborhood Inequality

A new study released this week and explored in depth in The New York Times shows what  civil rights advocates have long known: in raising children, as in real estate, location is (nearly) everything.

By examining data about poor children who moved at some point during their childhood, a team of Harvard economists determined that each year a poor child spent in a high-opportunity neighborhood did three very important things. It increased the income that child would earn as an adult. It improved the chance that the child would live in a good neighborhood as an adult. And for girls, it increased the likelihood that they would marry or maintain relationships with their children's fathers.

So what makes a high opportunity neighborhood? No major surprises here. We're talking about neighborhoods with good schools, good employment opportunities, and, perhaps most important, a mix of poor, middle-income, and wealthier families living side by side.

But, unfortunately, communities like this are particularly inaccessible to poor people of color. In fact, in a number of our biggest cities, the average poor Black child lives in a neighborhood where the poverty rate is 3 or 4 times higher than the poverty rate in the neighborhood where the average poor white child lives.

This disparity is the legacy of many years during which it was official government policy to keep people of color out of "good" neighborhoods, otherwise known as neighborhoods where white people lived. Those policies were perfectly legal until the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, and we haven't yet succeeded in dismantling the geography of segregation that they created.

But the new study makes clear just how important that project is. If we want to create equality of opportunity, we have to start by making sure all families have access to high opportunity neighborhoods. The Fair Housing Act gives us some important tools for reaching that goal.

First, it requires that all the local government agencies that take housing money from the federal government do their part to affirmatively further fair housing — that is, to make sure their policies don't keep their communities segregated by race or income or any other factor. And the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is about to issue a new rule that will give those local agencies the data they need to understand segregation and will push them to engage actively in desegregation efforts.

The average poor Black child lives in a neighborhood where the poverty rate is 3 or 4 times higher than the poverty rate in the neighborhood where the average poor white child lives.

Second, the Fair Housing Act allows us to challenge policies that cause unjustified racial disparities and perpetuate residential segregation. This tool — called the "disparate impact" standard — is the best way to push towns to change zoning rules that unfairly keep people of color out of high-opportunity communities. But just as we're learning how important it is to open the doors to these communities, the Supreme Court is considering a case which could get rid of the disparate impact standard altogether.

That, of course, would be a step in the wrong direction. As the new study makes clear, giving all kids access to communities where they can thrive is crucial if we want the next generation of adults to be better off than their parents were.

We need to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty created by our history of discrimination, and we need more legal tools to make that happen. If we're still serious about the American dream, we've got to be serious about ending the residential segregation that puts it out of reach for too many of our children.

A new study finds that poor kids who grow up in economically integrated communities are better off as adults.

Home Health Care Workers Aren’t Guaranteed Minimum Wage or Overtime, and the Legacies of Slavery and Jim Crow Are the Reason Why

Ever since the New Deal era, U.S. labor laws guaranteeing minimum wages and overtime pay have excluded workers who care for elderly individuals and people with disabilities in their homes. These home health care workers — 90 percent of whom are women and most of whom are women of color — perform strenuous labor for long hours, helping those who need assistance with everything from dressing to meal preparation to eating to going to the bathroom to getting around. To this very day, these workers are denied the basic protections of minimum wages and overtime pay, even as demand for their services grows. They are among the poorest workers in our country, barely getting by on low wages, with 23 percent living below the poverty line. 

At the same time, the home health care industry — encompassing more than 80,000 home health care agencies and franchises, including national chains like Brightstar and Right at Home — has benefited from a nearly 80-year-old legal loophole allowing it to pay sub-standard wages. Not surprisingly, its profits have skyrocketed in recent years as the elderly population grows, with a Forbes’ article recently calling home health care franchises among the hottest investments and noting that the number of such franchises has more than quadrupled since 2000.

What most people don’t know is that the exclusion of home health care workers from fair pay is a deliberate and racist wrong that stretches back to Depression-era America, where it was written into our nation’s labor law to accommodate Southern segregationists. 

When the Fair Labor Standards Act was enacted as part of the New Deal, it excluded home health care workers, along with other domestic workers, from the otherwise broad guarantees of minimum wages and overtime pay.  This exclusion was a legacy of the American original sin of slavery, during which many enslaved African-American women who didn’t work the fields were forced to provide unpaid household care for white families. Following emancipation, in the Jim Crow era, former slaves and their descendants were kept out of good-paying industries through a toxic combination of legal, unofficial, and violent means. Even those who avoided the oppressive sharecropping system were pushed into the worst jobs, becoming bellboys and porters if they were men and domestics in white households if they were women. 

Black domestic servant in Atlanta, Georgia, May 1939
Black domestic servant, Atlanta, Georgia, May 1939 (Source: Marion Post Wolcott, New York Public Library, Flickr)

The low value placed on domestic work was also rooted in sex stereotypes that viewed this work as something less than real work, deeming it unworthy of legal protections. These gender norms were racialized: White women were expected to leave the paid workforce upon marriage to care for their own families, while Black women were expected to care for white families for low wages and without protections from abuse, even as they were frequently criticized for neglecting their own children.

When the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act was passed, guaranteeing minimum wages and standardizing hours, it codified these biases into law. The statute was deliberately interpreted to exclude domestic workers as well as agricultural workers — many of whom were African-American and immigrant men — the very occupations once performed in bondage. It also excluded a range of other predominantly female and non-white occupations, like hotel workers, waitresses, chambermaids, and janitors and nurses in hospitals from its safety net. 

The Southern segregationist legislators who controlled many leadership positions in the New Deal Congress, and who voted as a bloc, insisted upon this purposeful exclusion of so many African-American workers, not only from the Fair Labor Standards Act but from the rest of the New Deal’s enactments, including Social Security.  There was nothing covert about their aims.

Members of Congress stood up during the debates over the Fair Labor Standards Act to argue that “you cannot prescribe the same wages for the black man as for the white man,” as Democratic Rep. Martin Dies of Texas put it.  Rep. J. Mark Wilcox, a Democrat from Florida, cast the matter as one of reality in the South: “You cannot put the Negro and the white man on the same basis and get away with it,” he said.  “[I]t just will not work in the South.”  The only remotely covert part of the whole sordid deal was the race-neutral language of the legal exclusions themselves — as scholars like Juan Perea and Roy L. Brooks have documented, excluding the occupations where Black Americans were forced to work without mentioning race overtly. By using the well-recognized proxies of agricultural and domestic workers, New Deal legislators were able to garner needed Southern support without alienating northern votes.

What most people don’t know is that the exclusion of home health care workers from fair pay is a deliberate and racist wrong that stretches back to Depression-era America, where it was written into our nation’s labor law to accommodate Southern segregationists. 

Despite the use of these barely-coded categories, their meaning was apparent to all. The NAACP, the National Negro Congress, and other groups protested the exclusion of domestic servants and farmworkers from New Deal laws like the Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. They pointed out, as the NAACP’s Charles Hamilton Houston testified, that “you will find the majority of Negroes engaged either in farming or else in domestic service,” and thus shut out of the new laws’ protections. But time and again, Congress ignored their testimony and codified the racial exclusions into federal law.

Congress eventually amended the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1974 to bring most domestic workers within its protections, but the law was still interpreted by the Labor Department to exclude most home health care workers. In the decades since then, the home health care industry has exploded into a multi-million-dollar sector. Part of this massive growth is due to the welcome fact that, unlike in decades past, many more people who need care are now living in their homes, rather than in institutions.  In addition, the portion of the population that is 65 or older has burgeoned, from 8 percent in 1950 to nearly 13 percent by 2009. Yet the growing workforce providing care is still working under pre-1938 conditions, with no guarantee of minimum pay or overtime.

After years of advocacy by a broad coalition that included worker and civil rights groups, the Department of Labor issued rules in 2013 that would finally bring home health care workers into the economic mainstream and grant them the basic wage protections that most workers take for granted. The rules require workers employed by third-party agencies, which make up the vast majority of the workers in the marketplace, to be paid minimum wages and overtime. They also narrow the definition of the casual babysitters and elder companions who would remain exempt from wage protections.

Early this year, however, a federal judge in the District of Columbia struck down the rules as being beyond the scope of the Labor Department's authority. The ruling was prompted by a legal challenge brought by those who gain the most from the exclusion of home health care workers from wage protections — the home health care industry, represented by their trade associations, the Home Care Association of America, the International Franchise Association, and the National Association for Home Care and Hospice. The industry groups argued, and the federal judge agreed, that the Labor Department lacks the power to eliminate the exemptions for home health care workers, and that any change to the status quo would have to come from further congressional action. The government has appealed, and the federal court of appeals will hear the case, Home Care Association of America v. Weil, on May 7. The ACLU filed a brief joined by many civil rights and women's rights organizations, advocating for the rights of excluded workers.

It was never right to deny predominantly non-white women workers fair wages for the difficult work they do providing care at home.  It is certainly not right today. The federal government has finally acted to put a long-overdue end to this shameful legal exemption that the home health care industry has unjustly benefited from. Now it's time for the courts to do the same and stop these firms from profiting from a loophole rooted in the racist legacies of slavery and Jim Crow.

The exclusion of home health care workers from basic wage protections is rooted in America's racist past.

The McConnell Surveillance Flip-Flop

Spring may have finally arrived in D.C., but Senator McConnell isn't being called a flip-flopper for his footwear.

Last month, in the face of a strong developing consensus in favor of significant reform, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY.) joined Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) to introduce a bill that would reauthorize for five years what is one of the most egregious spy provisions on the books today.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire June 1, is the provision that the NSA has used to collect information on every single call made or received by everyone in America. The most important check on the law is the expiration date built into it, which ensures Congress revisits it regularly. Yet when they filed the bill, Sen. McConnell invoked a rule that would allow him to bypass the regular congressional committee process and bring the bill straight to the floor for a vote.

The move is a clear signal that Sen. McConnell appears ready to reauthorize provisions of the Patriot Act called into question by civil liberties and security experts alike – without even a whisper of debate.

Just last year, however, Sen. McConnell was singing a very different tune of the democratic process. In a partial defense of his strong opposition of the USA Freedom Act of 2014 – which was supported by the intelligence community, civil society, tech companies, and members of his own party – he said:

"It's unclear why the Majority Leader [Reid] wants to rush this untested bill through in a lame duck session rather than after reasonable consideration by relevant committees."

But a rushed decision without reasonable consideration is exactly what his bill would do now.

At a time when wide swaths of the public – including civil libertarians, gun rights advocates, librarians, and even members of his own party – are clamoring to rein in the NSA's authority to conduct mass surveillance, Sen. McConnell's bill is out of touch.

In a coalition letter released today, over 50 groups spanning the political spectrum voiced their opposition to the McConnell bill. Signatories include Gun Owners of America, conservative groups like R Street, civil liberties and civil rights groups like the NAACP and ACLU, and many more.

The letter is clear signal that there is broad consensus that Section 215 has expanded the reach of intelligence agencies in unprecedented and concerning ways and must be curtailed.

Section 215 amended previous laws to allow the government to collect "any tangible thing," including medical records, membership lists for churches or other religious institutions, phone records, and even financial information.

At the same time, it dropped the standards that had to be met before the intelligence community to acquire this information – requiring only that the information be "relevant" to an authorized investigation. Today, we know that the definition of relevance has been twisted beyond recognition, to allow the government to access the call records of every American, on a daily basis.

The result: The government can now peep into the most intimate details of Americans' lives.

For example, phone calls to a shooting range suggest that someone is a gun owner. Similarly, contact with a suicide hotline provides a window into mental health, calls to a priest tell the government about religious affiliation, and regular conversations with an ex late at night give a glimpse into someone's romantic life. This program hasn't made us any safer, and is a chilling indication that the government's surveillance programs have gone way too far.

Rushing through a reauthorization of Section 215, as the McConnell bill proposes, isn't a solution to this overreach. It's turning a blind eye. And, that's something privacy groups, civil libertarians, Republicans, Democrats, and gun owners can all agree on.

Over 50 groups, including privacy and gun rights advocates, protest McConnell's push to give the Patriot Act five more years.