By Dennis Parker, Director, ACLU Racial Justice Program
The Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole's posthumous pardon today of the last of the black men wrongly convicted of the rape of two white women 82 years ago in Scottsboro, Alabama seems to write the final chapter of a sorry story that epitomizes the racial injustice and procedural unfairness that dominated the criminal justice system in the United States in the beginning of the last century. It would be difficult to concoct a process more unfair from beginning to end. Starting with the arrest of nine black men and boys on fabricated and completely contradictory allegations of the rape of two white women, the case proceeded through a serious of rushed and unfair trials. The defendants were represented by counsel wholly unfamiliar with criminal defense work and unable to conduct even the most basic investigations. The jury deciding the case completely excluded African Americans and their deliberations were conducted under the very real threat of the lynching of the defendants. Although the alleged victims ultimately recanted their stories and admitted that their allegations of rape were complete fabrications, all of the men were convicted and all but one sentenced to death. During the case seemingly every ugly stereotype appeared, from the depiction of the criminally rapacious black male intent on ravishing white women to the attacks on the counsel who ultimately took on the case on remand as meddling communistic Jewish lawyers from New York.
But is this long overdue pardon the final word in one of the most sordid parts of our nation's history? It is certainly true that through the efforts of advocates including Walter Pollak, the ACLU lawyer who argued the case in the United States Supreme Court, the first steps were made toward requiring representation in capital, and later all criminal cases. The case also questioned the practice of categorical exclusion of people from juries on the basis of race. And the chilling images of thousands of people, including whole families, gleefully observing public lynching of African Americans have been relegated to the past.
But the troubling perceptions linking people of color, particularly African Americans and more particularly black males, to criminality have persisted. The fearful consequences of this link also continue. They can be life threatening as we see in the too frequent events of people of color killed after shopping for snacks or while seeking assistance after traffic accidents. And, even when the consequences are not fatal, when individuals of color are detained under suspicion of shoplifting after legitimate purchases at expensive stores or subjected to repeated stops on the streets while they are violating no laws, there seem to be no end to the reminders that a whole range of humiliating, degrading and potentially fatal actions are still taken by people convinced that race and ethnicity are sure signs of criminality.
The nine black men and boys unfairly charged with crimes 80 years ago are beyond continued suffering from the discrimination inflicted on them in their lifetime. They are likewise beyond the relief afforded by pardons. The clearing of their names does have symbolic importance, but the greatest tribute to their suffering would be for the nation to take an unflinching look at the way that race still informs too many aspects of our criminal justice system and take the steps necessary to give full meaning to our professed belief in equality before the law.
According to the state of Kansas, some voters are qualified to vote for President, but not for Governor or Secretary of State.
Why? The state has set up a two-tiered system for voter registration, arbitrarily separating voters into two unequal classes. Voters who register to vote using a state form can vote in all elections, but voters who register using the standard federal form can only vote in federal elections. These voters have done everything that they are supposed to do – complied with all federal legal requirements for voter registration, including providing proof of citizenship through an oath under penalty of perjury – but they are being arbitrarily denied the right to vote in state and local elections.
How did this happen? In an email to elections officials, without statutory authority and without undertaking the proper procedures for public notice and comment, the Kansas Secretary of State's office simply assigned different rights to equally qualified voters. With a few key strokes, Secretary of State Kris Kobach created a brand new dual registration system, denying many new voters their fundamental rights.
To back up a minute: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that states could not add requirements (such as documentation of citizenship) to the federal form for voter registration, because federal law says that states have to accept the form as sufficient for its purpose. In response, Kobach decided to create a dual registration system that only accepts the form to register voters for federal elections. In order to vote in state or local elections, a voter has to go beyond the requirements of the form and provide additional documentation of citizenship.
This dual registration system separates voters into two unequal classes depending on the mechanism they use to register. If you're wondering whether that's fair, consider the fact that a dual registration system was used to suppress voter registration during the Jim Crow days of racial segregation, when the idea that "separate but equal" was acceptable. Today's law also separates U.S. citizens into classes with disastrous effects. As recently as 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a dual registration system.
The dual registration system is only partially to blame for upending democracy in Kansas. Before Kobach unilaterally created this unjust dual registration, the Kansas state legislature used the fiction of noncitizen voting as an excuse for their campaign to shut thousands of eligible voters out of the state's democratic process by adding the documentation of citizenship requirement. But we cannot find a single instance of a noncitizen using the federal form to register to vote in Kansas.
We can, however, find plenty of eligible voters who are not registered, or only registered for federal elections, because of Kansas's new registration requirements. As of October, there were over 18,000 voter registration applications on hold in Kansas because the state hadn't received citizenship documentation. Kobach said in July that he didn't think the growing number of applications on hold was a "major problem." If there are about 1.8 million registered voters in Kansas and about 18,000 are in suspension, that's one in 100 voters.
We at the ACLU see that as a major problem, so today we filed suit to challenge this dual registration system in the case Belenky v. Kobach.
It all comes back to voters' equality. Kansas cannot treat equally qualified voters unequally on the whim of the Secretary of State. If you are qualified to vote in the presidential election, you are certainly qualified to vote in Kobach's re-election bid next year.
By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project
For more than seven years, the government has collected the phone records of every American under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, without ever having to justify the program's legality in a public and adversarial court hearing — that is, until this week. Tomorrow, the ACLU will appear in a federal courtroom in New York City to argue that the mass call-tracking program violates Americans' constitutional rights of privacy, free speech, and association, and that it goes far beyond what Section 215 authorizes. And the government will have to publicly defend the program to a judge, with the nation watching.
That it's taken this long to get here is astounding, and it provides even more evidence that excessive secrecy has poisoned our system of checks and balances. But it's encouraging that Americans will finally have their day in court, just months after learning the details of the government's vast spying program.
Our lawsuit, ACLU v. Clapper, was filed just a week after The Guardian published on June 5 the first of many disclosures based on documents obtained from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. We discovered then that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) had secretly ordered a subsidiary of Verizon to produce to the government the call records of every one of its customers over a 90-day period. Shortly thereafter, intelligence officials confirmed that the secret court order revealed by The Guardian belongs to a much broader program that leaves almost no American phone call untouched by the NSA.
The metadata program, which the FISC has regularly reauthorized in complete secrecy since 2006, amasses an enormous database of some of the innermost details of our private lives. As technology expert Edward Felten said in a declaration supporting our lawsuit, "telephony metadata can reveal information that is even more sensitive than the contents of [a] communication." In the aggregate, metadata can expose a "startlingly detailed" profile of each and every American's life — for example, her religion, political associations, contemplation of suicide, addictions to gambling or drugs, experience with rape, or difficulties struggling with sexuality.
Since we filed our suit, the government has been required to respond for the very first time to arguments that the bulk collection of Americans' call records is a gross invasion of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment, as well as an infringement of the twin First Amendment liberties of free association and free expression. And it's also been forced to defend its dumbfounding interpretation of Section 215 — an interpretation that even the author of the law "vehemently disputes" was ever intended by Congress. (The Patriot Act's author, Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), went on to introduce a bill that, if passed, would go a long way toward reforming the surveillance programs.)
Each disclosure concerning the call-tracking program confirms that secret court system, which authorizes mass-surveillance programs and only hears from the government's side, has fundamentally undermined our democracy and cannot provide real oversight. Just this week, we learned that the FISC opinion at the heart of the government's bulk-collection programs was written to retroactively authorize a dragnet surveillance program that was already underway. As my colleague Patrick Toomey and I wrote this week in The Guardian:
Both our courts and Congress failed to put meaningful limits on theNSA's surveillance, trading away our privacy in the process. The American people never consented to the [NSA's] effort to "collect it all" by tracking and inspecting every digital footprint we leave behind. Instead, the secret opinions of a secret court retroactively blessed a vast NSA surveillance program years after it began.
Friday's hearing is narrowly about the ACLU's claims and the government's defense of the program. But even broader issues are also at stake: How much — and how truthfully — should the American public be told about the government surveillance programs carried out in its name? How much of our (and the rest of the world's) communications data should the NSA collect? Will courts allow new technologies to outrun the fundamental privacy protections enshrined in our Constitution?
Those questions may not all be resolved on Friday, but the court will still be among the very first to grapple with them where lawyers for someone besides the government get their say in an open, adversarial proceeding. While it might be unfortunate that such a staple performance of democracy is also a momentous occasion, we'll keep fighting to make sure it's the first of many.
By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project
With the latest release of documents about the NSA and the FISA Court (this one in response to an ACLU/EFF Freedom of Information Act request) we now have yet more evidence that the NSA’s compliance with the court’s orders has been poor. We learn, for example, that, according to the court, “the NSA exceeded the scope of authorized [metadata] acquisition continuously during the more than [redacted] years of acquisition under these orders.” And, “NSA’s record of compliance with these rules has been poor.”
Extraordinary powers require extraordinary oversight. But we’re gradually beginning to see the full scope of the FISA Court’s inadequacy as an oversight institution. The latest disclosures follow other evidence that this court has had less than a stellar record in enforcing its rulings. Previous documents revealed, for example, that the NSA repeatedly violated court-imposed limits on its surveillance powers, and that the agency experienced numerous so-called “compliance incidents” such as staff using the agency’s tremendous powers to spy on love interests. And as my colleague Jameel Jaffer points out, the record suggests that the government has felt free to make bolder, less-supportable arguments before the secret FISA Court than it’s willing to make before real courts that are open to the public.
It has often been pointed out that the FISA Court is not a normal court, a big reason being that all of its proceedings are ex parte (that is, there is no adversarial proceeding, the court only hears from one side) and that it operates within an ocean of secrecy and compartmentalization. My colleagues Patrick Toomey and Brett Max Kaufman yesterday detailed the sorry story of how these characteristics allowed the court to stretch the law to permit bulk metadata collection.
There are a lot of proposals out there to fix the structural problems with the FISA Court, and I’m not going to get into them. I just want to make the point that the problems with the court as oversight institution run very deep—reaching to the very heart of what “a court” is—and that sweeping changes are needed if the NSA is to receive anything close to the degree of oversight it needs.
It’s significant that most or all of the NSA compliance problems now coming to light are self-reported. To begin with, that means we don’t know what kinds of problems were not reported. And unfortunately in any human institution the discipline required to self-report legal violations is, to put it mildly, not something that can be relied upon. It’s not exactly a “check and balance” to assume people will tell on themselves. Even if we could count on all problems eventually being self-confessed to a court, that is not good enough, because in the time that passes before officials ‘fess up—a matter of years in many of the cases we’ve learned about—real privacy invasions and damage can be done.
More fundamentally, the reason all these violations have been self-reported is that the court does not have the administrative capacity to ferret out any violations on its own. Like all courts, the FISA Court issues orders: “do this,” “don’t do that.” But unlike most courts, it has no way of actually knowing whether its orders are being followed. When a court issues an order in a normal adversarial court proceeding, one side in that case always has an incentive to watch the other like a hawk, and if the court’s orders are not carried out the judge is sure to hear about it from the aggrieved party. That is even true of criminal warrants that are issued ex parte; if the police exceed the scope of a warrant, a defendant can have any resulting evidence thrown out in court. But in the netherworld of the NSA, the FISA Court appears to be sending its orders into a black hole, with no way of finding out whether they are being complied with. Except through self-reporting.
Courts are not administrative agencies, like the EPA or USDA, that have inspectors on the ground able to watch over an operation and verify first-hand exactly what is taking place. Courts are generally not institutions that are set up for that kind of boots-on-the-ground oversight of what’s happening out in the world. It’s true that courts do have the power to appoint special masters and receivers—but it’s not clear what kind of a special master could oversee such a gigantic, compartmentalized beast as the NSA, and I don’t believe there is any precedent for one to operate on a permanent basis and at the scale and with the secrecy that would be required.
The fact is, human beings have a hard time reliably ascertaining truth. That is true even in the absence of extreme secrecy and compartmentalization, not to mention the existence of a gigantic and complex bureaucracy with thousands of moving parts. On a deep epistemological level, the adversarial judicial process that has evolved within the Anglo-American legal tradition is a response to that problem—an attempt to increase the reliability of truth determinations through the public, competitive clash of highly interested parties.
And implicit in that system is the premise that those interested parties actually know something of what’s going on. Creating a FISA Court “Devil’s Advocate” position may help steer the court away from the kind of one-sided interpretive rulings that inevitably result when a judge only hears one point of view, but a court-bound advocate won’t solve this institution’s core lack of administrative capacity to engage in boots-on-the-ground verification of its rulings. The FISA Court is like a robot that lacks eyes or arms—no matter how sophisticated its brain, it can’t go out and explore the world.
When Congress created the FISA Court, it made a departure from all the accumulated experience of our centuries-long legal tradition. It created an institution that was novel and untested, with secrecy and the lack of adversarial proceedings short-circuiting the normal operation of normal courts in very profound ways. It did this out of a recognition that our giant yet secretive national security agencies are something new in human history, that require new, more robust forms of checks and balances. But it now seems very clear that this deformed mutant version of a “court” is not up to the job.
By Alyssa Telander, Border Resident & Outreach Coordinator, ACLU of New Mexico, Regional Center for Border Rights
With all the talk about immigration reform that goes on behind closed doors in Washington DC, it's rare to hear from the people who actually live on the US-Mexico border, and who will be profoundly affected by what Congress does or doesn't do regarding immigration.
This week border residents from San Diego to Brownsville are in the nation's capital to tell our stories through a display on the national mall of 170 handcrafted panels that make up a Border Quilt.Under the banner of "Revitalize not Militarize", we are calling on Congress to invest in the real needs and priorities of border communities – better schools, jobs and health care -- rather than spending billions of dollars on military-style border enforcement.
Modelled after the AIDS quilt, the Border Quilt includes individually crafted panels that tell distinct, poignant stories of struggle, loss and determination. Here's a sample:
- Griselda's handwritten panel tells the story of her family's harrowing escape to the U.S. from Honduras. The trip included a journey on the infamously dangerous train called la Bestia, or the Beast. They fled their country because their lives were threatened by members of organized criminal groups in Honduras. When they arrived at one of the border bridges in El Paso, Texas, the U.S. agent who interviewed them verbally and physically abused her young son. Despite the intimidation, the family was able to cross into the U.S. They are now living at a migrant shelter in El Paso, awaiting a decision on their asylum request.
- Emma, from Anthony, New Mexico, has two young granddaughters, both under the age of 10, who have already witnessed the trauma of family separation so common in border communities. The parents of two of their best friends were recently deported to Mexico, and forced to leave their children behind. Every day, Emma's granddaughters see their young playmate's suffering, and they can't understand why our government keeps taking parents away from their children. Their quilt panel includes their handwritten testimony and a picture of their friends drawn in marker.
- Josefina also lives in Anthony, New Mexico, about a thirty minute drive from the border. Like many border residents, she frequently travels to and from Ciudad Juarez in Mexico on business and to visit family, often waiting hours in long lines at the U.S. border crossing. Josefina is well aware that cross-border business is the lifeline of the border economy, and doesn't understand why many of the lanes on the bridges are not staffed. She wants to know why her representatives are discussing spending billions of dollars on equipment like drones and surveillance cameras rather than investing money to make border crossings more efficient. Her quilt panel depicts one of the bridges between El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, with multiple lanes for traffic, all of which are inexplicably closed except for one.
Together the panels cry out to members of Congress to respect the 15 million people who live along the southern border, to hear our voices, to help our vibrant economies thrive, and to resist turning the place we call home into a military zone.
Organized by the Southern Border Communities Coalition, including the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights. The Border Quilt is on display on the National Mall in front of the Capitol Building all day November 20th. For more about the quilt project, click here.
By Patrick C. Toomey, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project & Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project
This was originally posted at The Guardian.
The answer is simple: secrecy poisoned our system of checks and balances. Both our courts and Congress failed to put meaningful limits on the NSA's surveillance, trading away our privacy in the process. The American people never consented to the National Security Agency's (NSA) effort to "collect it all" by tracking and inspecting every digital footprint we leave behind. Instead, the secret opinions of a secret court retroactively blessed a vast NSA surveillance program years after it began.
The more we learn, the clearer it is that our surveillance laws and oversight rules are in dramatic need of reform, like the USA Freedom Act, that provide both transparency and real protections for privacy.
The latest documents show how secrecy distorted the oversight process from the beginning. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (known as the Fisa court) rewrote the so-called pen register statute behind closed doors to meet the NSA's demands for dragnet surveillance of Americans' internet activity. (The pen-register law allows the government to obtain – without a warrant – phone-call details such as who an individual calls, and when.)
For years, Congress sat back as the Fisa court fruitlessly sought to deal with the NSA's repeated violations of the court's own rules. The irony is that the NSA ultimately gave up on the internet-metadata program entirely – ending the bulk collection of this data in 2011 for "operational and resource reasons". But the damage lives on, in other mass-surveillance programs that continue to this day, authorized by the same faulty legal reasoning.
Among the newly released documents is an opinion written in July 2004 by Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the former presiding judge of the Fisa court, authorizing the bulk collection of internet metadata from US switches.
What's most striking about the opinion is not that it paved the way for the NSA's internet-metadata program, it's that the NSA's internet-metadata program paved the way for the opinion. As the 2009 NSA Inspector General Report disclosed this summer by the Guardian reveals, the internet-metadata program existed long before the government ever sought court approval. First carried out under a secret authorization by President George W Bush, it was only when lawyers from the Department of Justice threatened to resign in March 2004 – in what has been described as a heroic intervention in Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital room – that the White House decided to put the program under judicial supervision.
But the storied confrontation at Ashcroft's bedside did not put an end to the bulk collection of internet metadata. Nor did it prompt the executive branch to propose changes to the law that would put bulk collection on firm statutory ground. Instead, the episode led government lawyers to try to recreate a basis for bulk collection in existing statutory authorities – in this case, the "pen register and trap-and-trace" provisions. And the Fisacourt acquiesced, reverse-engineering statutory authority for the very government surveillance program that was already underway.
Perhaps that's why the Kollar-Kotelly opinion reads as if it is an attempt to drive a square peg in a round hole. The opinion even acknowledges, in a footnote, that Congress never contemplated the use of the pen register provision for bulk collection. But rather than rejecting the mass tracking of Americans' internet activity, the opinion sets off in search of a way to justify it.
Indeed, that was the whole point. The outcome was all but prearranged. As the Inspector General report reveals, members of the court sat through secret briefings by intelligence officials about the efforts of NSAand Department of Justice lawyers to find bulk collection a statutory home. By ordinary standards, the process was hardly an adversarial one. Instead, it has all the look of a friendly negotiation en route to a predetermined result.
Years later, the flaws inherent in the program's secret origins and retroactive court approval continued to come to light. Recounting one compliance incident after the next, the new documents show the Fisacourt's long-running struggle to rein in an intelligence agency whose surveillance programs long predated the court's involvement. The court repeatedly admonished the government for gross violations of court orders, only to approve more and more far-reaching collection based on government promises that next time, things would be different.
With the exception of a handful of outspoken senators, like Senators Ron Wyden (Democrat from Oregon) and Mark Udall (Democrat from Colorado.), Congress appears to have been an almost-passive player in the oversight process. Letters and reports show that Congress was generally informed of compliance problems only months after DOJ lawyers first reported them to the Fisa court. The congressional committees charged with oversight appear to have been content to sit back and watch the court attempt to supervise these programs.
The result is not heartening, though it may be predictable. Secrecy ensures there is no vocal constituency on the side of privacy. It means there is no one to object, either at the ballot box or in court. Rather, we're left to the mercy of a secret agency overseen by a secret court and less than transparent congressional intelligence committees.
In the end, the internet-metadata program was discontinued because it failed to provide useful counterterrorism information. Yet its precedent continues, in court opinions justifying other bulk-collection programs, including the NSA's mass call-tracking program. That is a twisted irony, and it calls into further question the legal legitimacy of mass surveillance.
It is also a vital lesson. It should be no surprise that a surveillance program whose existence was assumed rather than debated, and whose legal basis was retrofitted rather than carefully considered by Congress, trampled on the privacy rights of hundreds of millions.
By Michael Tan, Staff Attorney, Immigrants' Rights Project, ACLU
Everyone knows that our immigration system is broken. But one of its worst features remains shrouded in secrecy: Our massive immigration lock-up system.
On any given day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cages approximately 34,000 men, women, and children in jails across the country as it pursues their deportation, at a cost to taxpayers of two billion dollars a year. Scandalously, ICE often has no good reason to incarcerate these people at all. In far too many cases, immigrants are incarcerated even though they pose no danger to anyone, and don't need to be detained to make sure they show up for court. And many of these immigrants—thousands of whom are long-term green card holders—are not actually deportable, as the government claims, but will ultimately win the right to stay in the country.
Perversely, recent data shows that immigrants who go on to win their cases and earn the right to stay here under our laws are especially vulnerable to languishing for months or even years in immigration jail. The Transactional Records Clearinghouse (TRAC), a nonpartisan research center at Syracuse University, analyzed data on immigrants who were released from ICE custody or deported during the last two months of 2012. TRAC found that people released because ICE or an immigration judge eventually found that they were legally entitled to stay in the country had the longest average detention time: 131 days. Moreover, of those who won their cases, 20 percent were detained for six months or more, and the average detention stay for this group was 334 days. In contrast, individuals who were deported spent an average of 27 days in detention.
These nationwide findings are consistent with an expert report prepared by TRAC's co-director, Dr. Susan Long, in Rodriguez v. Robbins, the ACLU's class action lawsuit challenging the long-term detention of immigrants in the Los Angeles area without meaningful bond hearings. Dr. Long's study found that the average length of detention for individuals held six months or longer and who applied for relief from deportation was 421 days.
The data shows just how badly our immigration jails need reform. We should not be wasting taxpayer dollars on incarcerating people for months or years when they pose no threat to anyone and ultimately will be found to have a right to stay in our country. Just like in the criminal justice system, these individuals and countless others can be safely released on bond and conditions of supervision, without the massive costs to taxpayers and devastating harm to families and communities that are the hallmarks of our immigration prison system.
By Brigitte Amiri, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Last night the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision refusing to block a Texas law that has forced more than one third of the women's health centers to stop providing abortion. The Court reached its decision despite the fact that the law is having devastating effects on women in the three weeks that it's been in place. Women have been turned away from clinics. They are frustrated, angry, and in tears. In large parts of the state, including the Rio Grande Valley, there is no abortion provider. One woman whose appointment at a Harlingen health center was cancelled said that she did not have the money to travel north, and she would likely be forced to carry to term.
The law at issue requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. At first glance, that sounds reasonable. But this requirement is simply a backdoor attempt to shut providers down. As the District Court found after a trial, admitting privileges will place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking abortion, and will do nothing to ensure patient safety. This is why the American Congress of Obstetrician and Gynecologists Texas Medical Association, and the Texas Hospital Association opposed the law.
So where to do we go from here? We keep fighting. As disappointed as we are, we will do everything we can to protect Texas women. We know the public is behind us too. In a poll, 80 percent of Texans opposed this law. As we saw in New Mexico last night, when asked directly, voters routinely reject laws that attempt to take away personal and private decisions from women and their families.
Our case continues on the merits, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in January. We hope we will find justice at some point in the court process.
By Abdi Soltani, Executive Director, ACLU of Northern California
Growing up in Iran I know too well the impact of unchecked government surveillance. Even as a small child, I had to worry about what I said and asked over the phone because the government could be listening and might use what I said against my family.
So when I found out that AT&T and Verizon have been handing over information about millions of customers’ calls to the National Security Agency (NSA) I was outraged. Secret, unchecked surveillance is antithetical to democracy, and the government is going too far. As the nation’s primary defender of civil liberties, the ACLU has sued the government and is leading the charge to reform our surveillance laws.
The board of directors of the ACLU of Northern California also felt that we had to take action, a different kind of action that we have rarely taken in our 80-year history: we filed a shareholder proposal — one with AT&T and one with Verizon. As customers, shareholders, and citizens, we all deserve to know what is done with our personal information. That is why the ACLU of Northern California, along with several other investors, have called on both companies to break their silence and publish transparency reports that detail how often they share information with U.S. or foreign governments and what type of customer information is shared.
Revelations about NSA spying, including corporate cooperation by both telecommunications and Internet companies, have spurred massive global press coverage, hearings in the U.S. Congress and in legislatures around the world, and widespread calls for reform. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has called the NSA surveillance program "a breach of international law." U.S. Senator Ron Wyden has said, "I have to believe the civil liberties of millions of American have been violated."
Customer trust is critical for any business, but especially for Internet and telecommunications companies that gather personal data concerning and affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world. In an effort to help rebuild consumer trust, major Internet companies including Google, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Yahoo! have issued transparency reports with information on government requests; AT&T and Verizon have not. Companies, including Google and Microsoft, have also filed in court seeking authorization to disclose further information to the public; AT&T and Verizon have not.
Privacy is fundamental to democracy and free expression — and transparency is essential if individuals and businesses are to make informed decisions regarding their personal information. AT&T and Verizon must comply with legal obligations imposed by the Patriot Act and other laws. But these companies have no good excuse for staying silent and failing to provide information about how often customer information is being shared with the government. To the contrary, staying silent as other industry leaders release transparency reports and take steps to reinforce a genuine commitment to privacy makes it appear that these companies have something to hide and presents serious financial and reputational risks. Consumers prefer companies whose information practices they know and can trust. It is already estimated that the risks of surveillance and lack of trust could cost the U.S cloud computing industry $21 billion to $35 billion in foreign business over the next three years. The Chief Privacy Officers at AT&T and Verizon have praised transparency as a goal, but it is time to back up those statements with action by releasing transparency reports.
We are pleased to have co-filed the AT&T proposal with The New York State Common Retirement Fund and Trillium Asset Management LLC, and the Verizon proposal with Trillium Asset Management LLC, Park Foundation, and CleanYield Asset Management. We hope that other shareholders will join the effort. It’s time for AT&T and Verizon to tell the public what is happening to our personal information.
By Hayley Smith, Advocacy and Policy Associate, ACLU
Yesterday, voters in Albuquerque, New Mexico stood up for women and families, turning out in force to defeat a proposed ban on abortion after 20 weeks by a 10 point margin. Time and again, we've seen women and families raise their voices to oppose harmful restrictions on a woman's ability to make her own decisions about whether to continue a pregnancy. In Texas, the people's veto (when thousands of activists in the Senate gallery yelled that they didn't want abortion restrictions and) temporarily halted the harmful abortion ban that we continue to fight in court. In Mississippi, voters decisively defeated a so-called personhood measure that would have banned abortion. The people have voted down abortion bans and restrictions around the country from Colorado to South Dakota to Florida. It's clear that a majority of Americans agree that the decision to end a pregnancy belongs with a woman, her family, and her doctor.
But the extreme anti-abortion groups behind these restrictions just don't seem to get the message, despite the fact that time and again, voters say loud and clear: These abortion bans have no place in our cities and states. We trust women to make personal, private medical decisions without unnecessary government intrusion.
The ACLU will continue to fight attacks on women's health and build on last night's victory. Let yesterday's vote serve as a reminder – We're not stupid. We know these restrictions are part of a coordinated, nationwide attempt to ban abortion state by state, city by state, clinic by clinic. And we will be heard when we say that enough is enough. Politics has no place in our decisions about whether and when to have a family.