By Chris Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Fool me three times? Good grief, no one should ever be fooled three times.
But that's exactly what will happen to the Senate Intelligence Committee – and the American people – unless President Obama puts a leash on an unchecked CIA. He now must stop them from taking any more steps to try to hide its record of torture, secret prisons and the kidnapping program known as extraordinary rendition.
The committee voted Thursday to submit its torture report to the executive branch for a declassification review and then public release.
Under the leadership of Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee conducted a five-year investigation into the CIA's use of torture between 2001 and 2006. Senators and their staffs reviewed more than 3 million pages of CIA documents, resulting in a report of more than 6,000 pages.
One of the very few conclusions of the report that's been made public is that the CIA repeatedly misled Congress, the White House and the Justice Department on the facts of the torture program.
An entire section of the report is dedicated to CIA falsehoods, presumably including lies to the very committee charged with overseeing the CIA.
Fool the Senate once, shame on the CIA.
Read the rest at CNN.com.
By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU
On Monday, Utah became the first state to enact legislation simultaneously protecting location information and electronic communications content, regardless of age, from government access—ensuring that state and local law enforcement can only access that sensitive information when there is good reason to believe that it will reveal evidence of a crime, or in true emergencies.
This is notable for two reasons.
- First, these are the primary two reforms we seek to the outdated federal law that governs our privacy in the digital age, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). While Utah is not the first state to enact location protections (that was Montana followed by Maine) or protections for electronic communications content (that was Texas), Utah has shown that these reforms can pass as a package. Utah can now be a proving ground for ECPA reform, demonstrating that law enforcement can effectively do its job while simultaneously protecting privacy.
- Second, Utah’s new law is also remarkable because of its breadth. The law covers “location information, stored data, or transmitted data of an electronic device.” There is no question that this language provides protections for location information and for electronic communications content regardless of age. It’s also clear that the law covers the use of controversial StingRay technology. There is also every reason to believe that “stored and transmitted data” covers metadata. Ever since the NSA revelations began last summer, the sensitivity of metadata has been widely recognized, and what to do about it has been the million-dollar question. Utah’s new law demonstrates that, as the ACLU has recommended, requiring a warrant for law enforcement to access metadata is sensible and workable policy.
States in every region of the country are actively considering legislation protecting location information and electronic communications content, sometimes together in one package. We hope more states will follow Utah’s lead—and we’ll continue working with state legislators to make that happen.
By Kelsey Townsend, Reproductive Freedom Project, ACLU
Last week, women in Bartlesville, Oklahoma faced a terrifying possibility. According to a new religiously based directive from the town's main health care system, only one OB-GYN in the entire town would have been allowed to prescribe birth control. So access to contraceptives in the city would have gone something like this: Is Dr. Oliver your OB-GYN? If so...congratulations! You can continue receiving prescription contraception for birth control. If not…too bad! Unless you require contraceptives for reasons other than birth control, you can no longer receive a prescription from your physician.
That's right. According to a report by the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, a new directive would have required physicians affiliated with Jane Phillips Medical Center to stop prescribing contraceptives for the purpose of birth control, leaving the city of over 18,500 women with only one OB-GYN (the aforementioned Dr. Oliver) with the ability to do so.
Fortunately, the people of Bartlesville, and elsewhere, recognized the outrageousness of this possibility. After the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise story went viral and there was outpouring of social media opposition, St. John Health System, which owns Jane Phillips Medical Center, released a statement clarifying that while the institution itself does not approve or support contraceptive practices, physicians maintain the ability to prescribe medications "in accordance with their independent professional medical judgment."
While this seems to resolve the dispute in Bartlesville, questions like these will continue to arise as Catholic health systems continue to expand. Jane Phillips Medical Center is just one of an increasing number of Catholic-sponsored facilities where standards of reproductive care are compromised by a requirement to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
As a joint ACLU/MergerWatch report showed, 10 of the 25 largest health systems in the United States in 2011 were Catholic-sponsored. Together, these health systems accounted for $213.7 billion dollars in gross patient revenue and 330 acute-care hospitals with 63,579 beds. And these health systems are rapidly expanding.
What do those abstract numbers have to do with you? If you walk into a Catholic-sponsored hospital, you may be giving up your ability to make decisions about your own health care. These Directives dictate treatment at Catholic-sponsored facilities regardless of the ethical and religious beliefs of the patient, and they pose a serious threat to reproductive health care. For an example of this, look no further than the case of Tamesha Means, a woman whose health was put at grave risk when her local hospital put the Directives above her health needs in treating her miscarriage.
It is critically important that we monitor this expansion and ensure that our ability to govern our own health care remains intact. Like the people of Bartlesville, the public must stand up to ensure that basic medical treatment isn't denied in the name of religion.
Imagine you had just picked up your kids from school. You're driving home on a secluded country road when your car is pulled over by armed US law enforcement agents who threaten you with a knife and taser. That's what happened to me last May and my kids and I still haven't recovered from the experience.
I live in a desert community outside of Tucson, about 40 miles from the US-Mexico border, where my family owns thirty acres of land. Border Patrol agents around here roam our country roads, supposedly on the watch for migrants and drug-runners that sneak across the border. A few times before this particular incident agents had followed me and my kids, in my soccer mom van, for no reason I know. But until last May 21st, I had never been directly confronted by them.
That afternoon, after leaving my daughter's school with my two kids in the back seat, I turned down the dirt road that leads to our property. I stopped briefly to check my tires, and noticed a Border Patrol car parked on the side of the road, but didn't think much of it. I continued down the road as usual, talking to my kids about how their day went and what we would do when we got home. Suddenly I noticed in my rear view mirror that the Border Patrol vehicle was behind me. At first I was more curious than concerned, and then they forced me to pull over.
One of the agents approached my van and asked if I was an American citizen, which I am. He then told me to get out of the car so they could search my vehicle. When I asked what reason they had for searching my car, the agent got aggressive. He demanded in a gruff voice that I comply with his order. I continued to insist that I thought I had a right to know why they had pulled me over before I would get out of the car, and when they wouldn't answer I decided to leave. That's when the agent's behavior turned really threatening. He called back to the other agents, "This one's being difficult, get the taser." Next he opened my door, pulled out a knife, and holding it against my seat belt, he shouted at me, "Ma'am, do I need to cut you out of your seatbelt?" Then he reached into the car and grabbed my keys.
There I was, alone in the middle of the desert, with my five and seven year old, surrounded by three hostile armed men who had my car keys. I was really afraid. So I finally stepped out the car, trembling, while my kids watched from the back seat. I stood next to my van while they bullied and lectured me about their right to search my vehicle, stating that my questioning them put me under suspicion. When the agents finally left, I grabbed my keys from the hood of the car where they'd left them, and started to drive away, only to realize that I had a flat. That's when I discovered that my rear tire had been slashed, a clear knife cut down the side. So I called my brother, who came with a jack to help me change the tire and get my scared kids home safely.
Unfortunately the arrogant and abusive behavior I experienced from the Border Patrol is not at all unusual for those of us who live in this border community. Roving patrols are always watching us from the side of the road, and questioning and harassing people. It's like living with an occupying army. My neighbor who runs the market and cafe in the town of Three Points down the road had to put up with Border Patrol agents coming onto the premises and searching through all the rooms, without any explanation. She finally got so angry she put her foot down. She now has a sign in the cafe, "No armed men allowed."
The saddest thing for me is that my kids are still afraid when we see Border Patrol. They keep asking me if we are going to get pulled over again by the agents, and "if they are going to be mean again and take mommy away." I finally decided that the constant threat of being harassed and interrogated driving back and forth from school to home just wasn't worth it. So I pulled my kids out of school, and with my mother's help they're being home schooled now.
I am still outraged that Border Patrol agents seem to think they have authority near the border to do whatever they want and face no consequences. The very day of the incident last May I tried to file a complaint. Our local sheriff told me to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the agency in charge of the Border Patrol. A DHS officer took down my story and said the incident would be investigated, but he told me there was no report from any Border Patrol agent about the incident. I never heard back from DHS until an ACLU lawyer in Tucson called on my behalf. Another DHS officer who then contacted me said my $50 claim to have my tire replaced was denied. They decided the tire was torn not slashed, and suggested I could file a lawsuit. He told me he would contact me after he interviewed an agent involved in my case. That was almost a year ago and I've never heard back from any DHS official since.
I'm proud to say I'm now one of the people named in a complaint the ACLU has filed with DHS on behalf of five Arizonans, US citizens who were subjected to abusive behavior by roving patrols. I believe strongly that we have rights under the Constitution that should be protected, and I want to see the Border Patrol held accountable. I recently accepted an invitation to go to Washington DC to speak to members of Congress about my experience, hoping my story could help bring a change in the way cases of Border Patrol abuse are handled. No one should be treated the way I was –leaving me and my family terrified and then ignored by an agency that is supposed to be in charge of our security. I'm standing up for my rights and I hope others will join me.
By Emily Weinrebe, ACLU National Security Project
The public debate over our government's surveillance programs has reached remarkable heights since the first set of NSA disclosures in June 2013 based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Since then, additional disclosures by both the press and government have illuminated our government's vast and invasive surveillance apparatus. These documents stand as primary source evidence of our government's interpretation of its authority to engage in sweeping surveillance activities at home and abroad, and how it carries out that surveillance. The ACLU hopes to facilitate this debate by making these documents more easily accessible and understandable. Toward that end, today we are launching the NSA Documents Database.
This tool will be an up-to-date, complete collection of previously secret NSA documents made public since last June. The database is designed to be easily searchable – by title, category, or content – so that the public, researchers, and journalists can readily home in on the information they are looking for.
We have made all of the documents text-searchable to allow users to investigate particular key words or phrases. Alternatively, the filter function allows users to sort based on the type of surveillance involved, the specific legal authorities implicated, the purpose of the surveillance, or the source of the disclosure. For example, you can have the database return all documents that both pertain to "Section 215" and "Internal NSA/DOJ Legal Analysis." We will update the database with new documents as they become available to the public.
The fact is that most of the documents contained in this database should have never been secret in the first place. Now, with newfound access to these records, we can educate ourselves about the true nature and scope of government surveillance in its many forms. This database will serve as a critical tool with which we will hold our government accountable.
By Sarah Mehta, Fellow, Immigrants' Rights Project, ACLU
Yesterday, I joined several organizations aiming to inform the U.S. government of its human rights commitments regarding access to justice .
My presentation focused on access to justice in the U.S. immigration system and was part of series of consultations the Obama administration is holding with civil and human rights groups in preparation of US government Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report which will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council later this year.
The testimony was an opportunity to remind the U.S. government (represented in the audience by officials from several offices including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice) that for many immigrants facing deportation, the justice system is closed off.
Under the Obama administration more than two million immigrants have been deported. And last year—according to the government's own records—more than 70 percent of them did not even have a hearing before an immigration judge. The main person reviewing whether they had the right to be in the United States was an immigration enforcement officer. In research I am conducting on this issue in the United States and in Mexico, I have found that the majority of people being deported have no idea what their rights are, what rights they are waiving, and what penalties they accept when they sign a removal order. In some places, border officials rarely ask people apprehended if they are afraid to go back to their country of origin—one of the few but essential legal requirements in place to protect people at our borders. This omission has stark consequences: some of the people we've interviewed have been abused, raped or kidnapped after asking for help but being deported anyway.
The people deported quickly and without a hearing include kids traveling by themselves—at great personal risk—to the United States. Last month, I spoke with 13 unaccompanied kids from ages 11 to 17 who had been deported. They talked about being yelled at and terrified in detention before signing a paper, under pressure from border officials that they didn't understand and was never explained to them.
Even those who do receive a hearing rarely have a lawyer. Unlike in U.S. criminal court, where right to counsel is guaranteed to almost everyone regardless of ability to pay, in immigration court only immigrants who can afford them generally get lawyers. And yet the Department of Homeland Security--the agency that arrests, prosecutes and deports immigrants--is always represented in removal proceedings, even as immigrants, including children as young as three years old, are left to fend for themselves.
In the midst of this bleak situation, there are some small signs of improvement. Last year, thanks to an ACLU lawsuit, a federal court in California ordered the government to provide counsel to immigration detainees with mental disabilities. And encouragingly, the Senate immigration reform bill—endorsed by President Barack Obama—passed last year would provide appointed counsel to those with designated mental disabilities, children, and additional vulnerable immigrants. The U.S. government has made promises before on these issues but those promises have often been unkept.
The U.S. government must now fulfill its obligations by extending legal representation to all immigrants facing deportation from the United States Denying immigrants the ability to defend against deportation and have their day in court violates both international human rights and the U.S. Constitution's right to due process.
The ACLU's written testimony on access to justice for immigrants is available here.
Almost 200,000 supporters of the freedom to marry voted for couples from across the country, to win the "My Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding" contest. The winning couples will each receive $5,000 towards the wedding of their dreams as part of our campaign to raise awareness regarding inequality in states where same-sex marriage is not yet legal.
The five winning couples are:
These couples demonstrate both the deep love that LGBT Americans share, as well as the challenges they face when they're married but living in a state that does not legally recognize their marriage.
The ACLU will help these same-sex couples go the extra mile down the aisle—border-crossing weddings include a hot air balloon ride from Texas and a carriage ride from Tennessee—into a state where it is legal to marry, highlighting the current inequalities that exist between neighboring states.
The idea of contest may seem like an unusually lighthearted approach to equality, but our goals are serious. We designed the contest to put a human face to the patchwork of state laws that allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry in 17 states and the District of Columbia, but deny other same-sex couples that freedom in the rest of the country.
Congratulations to all of the winning couples. We can't wait to see your weddings!
By Kelsey Townsend, Reproductive Freedom Project, ACLU
Last night, the Mississippi legislature passed a law that could open the door to allow individuals and businesses to discriminate in the name of religion -- despite opposition from state religious leaders, legal scholars, everyday Mississippians, and in the wake of a nationwide outcry over similar legislation in Arizona. People across the country have made it clear that they do not support discrimination--no matter how it's labeled.
The sustained pressure had a real positive impact: the law passed in Mississippi, while not ideal, was a significant improvement upon Arizona's notorious SB 1062. Recall that Arizona's legislation could have allowed employees to discriminate even in defiance of an employer's policies. The Arizona law would have allowed private individuals and businesses to sue other private parties using religious freedom as a cause of action, and would have put private businesses in the curious and perhaps untenable position of defending the government's interest in enforcing its policies.
The original version of Mississippi's law was even broader than Arizona's. But the law that passed yesterday is narrower. It allows lawsuits only against the government, and requires the government to show a very good reason for policies that substantially burden the free exercise of religion. Some seemingly neutral governmental policies, like dress codes, could have a significant impact on religious believers. (Take, for instance, a recent incident in New Jersey, where an Orthodox Christian man was held in contempt because he refused to remove his religiously required hat in a courtroom.) When they do, the government will have to justify the burden.
However, as we also have seen, sometimes people try to use religion to harm others and discriminate. And disappointingly, the Mississippi legislature rejected language that would have explicitly prohibited religion from being used to excuse discrimination. Now it will be up to Mississippi's courts to recognize the importance of enforcing protections from discrimination, and we are hopeful that they will interpret this law correctly.
Thankfully, politicians in other states did listen. In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that her own staff helped draft after facing overwhelming public opposition from major corporations, including Apple and JPMorgan Chase; prominent politicians in both political parties; and Arizona voters, a majority of whom opposed the bill.
Similar legislation failed in Georgia, where Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola, and other influential corporations announced their opposition; a bill in Idaho was pulled from the House after over 500 demonstrators flooded the capitol in protest; the sponsors of a bill in Ohio withdrew the legislation, realizing that support for the bill would be "in favor of discrimination"; and, following public testimony and a long floor debate, a bill was voted down in Maine by a majority in both the Senate and the House.
These victories should be celebrated, but, as Mississippi makes clear, the fight is not over. Bills are still being considered in Missouri and Oklahoma. But we have seen that when we speak up -- politicians listen. Let's make our voices heard and defeat these dangerous bills before they become law.
By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project
The revelations over the past nine months that the United States is engaging in various mass-surveillance programs that collect and store huge amounts of information about both Americans and foreigners has rightly invited frequent references to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Perhaps the most notable of these came from federal district-court judge Richard Leon, who had Big Brother on his mind when—in concluding that the government's comprehensive collection of Americans' call records over a seven-year period was likely unconstitutional—he labeled the program "almost Orwellian." Indeed, these days one cannot help but recall the observation of the novel's protagonist, Winston Smith, that in the society he knew, "Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull."
Judge Leon and others making similar allusions are not at all off the mark. But while Nineteen Eighty-Four is commonly taken as a comment on mass surveillance, its fundamental concern is not technological, but linguistic. For all that Orwell's "telescreens" recalled Bentham's panopticon, he trained his broader narrative on the state's willful manipulation of language in the service of vast, secret power and control. After all, Big Brother's most potent tool for policing society had little to do with controlling computers, and everything to do with controlling truth. This aspect of Orwell's novel has been much less discussed during the contemporary debate about the NSA than its portrayal of the all-seeing Party, but it is no less trenchant.
In dreaming up the concept of "Newspeak"—a language intended to make "impossible" any "modes of thought" that are incompatible with state policy —Orwell gave fictional purchase to ideas he'd offered years earlier in his seminal essay, "Politics and the English Language." There, he addressed the "special connection between politics and the debasement of language," warning of the grave threat posed to society when "words and meaning have almost parted company."
In Phoenix, Arizona, you can be arrested for repeatedly stopping and engaging a passerby in conversation. This may, under Phoenix law, be evidence that you are "manifesting" an intent to engage in prostitution. Of course, this could also be evidence that you are lost or canvassing for a political group or simply talking about the weather. The difference between "innocent" and "criminal" behavior often comes down to how a person looks. Transgender women of color are often profiled by police as engaging in sex work for simply being outside and going about their daily routines. Amnesty International documented this disproportionate targeting by police of transgender women as sex workers in a 2005 report. "[S]ubjective and prejudiced perceptions of transgender women as sex workers often play a signiﬁcant role in ofﬁcers' decisions to stop and arrest transgender women," the report concluded. One woman told Amnesty, "'No tenemos el derecho a vivir.' (We don't have the right to live.)."
Black transgender activist Monica Jones knows this all too well.
Last May, Monica was arrested under the disturbingly vague and overbroad manifestation ordinance. "I believe I was profiled as a sex worker because I am a transgender woman of color, and an activist." Monica explained.
"I am a student at ASU, and fear that these wrongful charges will affect my educational path. I am also afraid that if am sentenced, I will be placed in a men's jail as a transgender woman, which would be very unsafe for me. Prison is an unsafe place for everyone, and especially trans people." On April 11, 2014, Monica will go to trial and the ACLU will be assisting in her constitutional challenge to the manifestation ordinance. Together we hope to send a message about the injustices that transgender women of color so often experience at the hands of the police.
This week Monica and I discussed Project ROSE, the profiling of trans women of color, and where she finds her inspiration.
Chase Strangio (ACLU): In May of 2013, you were protesting Project ROSE in Phoenix. What is Project ROSE? Why have you and other activists in Phoenix and across the country been protesting it?
Monica Jones: Project ROSE is an anti-prostitution collaboration between the Arizona State University School of Social work, the Phoenix Police Department, and Catholic Charities, which claims to provide services to workers within the sex industry through a prostitution diversion program. Through massive street sweeps and online sting operations targeting workers within the sex industry and bringing them into the program without the benefit of counsel, Project ROSE instead sends many participants to jail after they don't qualify for the program or "fail" out of it, increasing the number of people in jail for prostitution-related charges.
Myself and others involved in the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Phoenix have been protesting Project ROSE because we don't believe consenting sex workers are victims, or that workers need to be arrested in order to get services.
Chase Strangio (ACLU): What are some of the most pressing issues facing trans people of color in your community?
Monica Jones: Some of the most pressing issues facing trans people are criminalization and threats of violence. All around the country trans people are targeted for police harassment. Due to discriminatory policing and social inequities experienced by trans people of color, nearly half of Black transgender people have been incarcerated at some point in their lives.
We also deal with increased harassment and violence on the streets by both civilians and police officers. We also face disproportionate job and housing discrimination. Trans women of color like myself, and trans individuals in general, have a huge unemployment rate due to discriminatory policies like Arizona being a "right to work" state, which makes it generally hostile for workers, and then a lack of affirmative employment protections for transgender people.
There is a lack of understanding of trans issues and the needs of trans communities. One example of the discrimination we face is the attempted passing of SB 1045 in Arizona, the "bathroom bill," which would have made it illegal for trans individuals to use the bathroom of the opposite gender to which they were assigned at birth. We fought against that bill and won.
Chase Strangio (ACLU): In conversations about your case and police harassment of transgender women, people have mentioned the phrase "walking while trans." Can you explain what that means? Does that resonate for you?
Monica Jones: "Walking while trans" is a saying we use in the trans community to refer to the excessive harassment and targeting that we as trans people experience on a daily basis. "Walking while trans" is a way to talk about the overlapping biases against trans people - trans women specifically - and against sex workers. It's a known experience in our community of being routinely and regularly harassed and facing the threat of violence or arrest because we are trans and therefore often assumed to be sex workers.
I have been harassed by police four times since my initial arrest last May. The police have stopped me for no real reason when I have been walking to the grocery store, to the local bar, or visiting with a friend on the sidewalk. The police have even threatened me with 'manifestation with intent to prostitute' charge, while I was just walking to my local bar!
Chase Strangio (ACLU): You have done such amazing work and have inspired so many people to stand up to harassment and violence. Who inspires you?
Monica Jones: More than anything, my family inspires me. My family has always been loud and stood up for what is right, and they taught me to do the same. Also, some of my teachers and professors that have supported me and steered me to become an activist have inspired me. And my friends in the activist community here in Phoenix inspire me to keep fighting.