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Civil Liberties

All articles with the "Civil Liberties" tag.

Published: Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2016 05:08:15 -0400


Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart Creating National Database of Sex Buyers

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 10:05:00 -0400

Cook County's Tom Dart, the prostitution-obsessed sheriff who launched a national month of police playing sex workers to arrest "johns" and unconstitutionally threatened Visa and Mastercard for doing business with the ad-site Backpage, has found a new way to threaten people's privacy, screw over sex workers, and grow the police state. The latest Dart-led initiative involves creating a national database of prostitution customers, using solicitation-arrest data submitted by cops through a phone app. Demand Abolition—a Massachusetts-based advocacy group that recently gave Boston Police $30,000 to look into new strategies to target prostitution customers—reported on Sheriff Dart's new plot in a late-August post crowing that "1,300 sex buyers—a record—were arrested across 18 states in just one month" of Dart's National John Suppression Initiative. Now, the sheriff is using data from that sting to start a national database of people arrested for soliciting prostitution. You know, for research purposes. "We are well on our way to developing a stronger, more nuanced understanding of who buyers are—information that can be used to find new ways to change their behavior," Demand Abolition chirps. This year's sex stings led to an "unprecedented level of buyer data collected, and shared, by this year's arresting officers," notes Demand Abolition. This is thanks to a new app that streamlines the logging of prostitution arrest information. The app was developed at a January "social justice hackathon", in which a hundred or so techies were presided over by a team of anti-prostitution zealots from across the country—including Dart, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Seattle-area prosecutor Val Richey (for more on Richey's work, see my recent series of stories on Seattle prostitution busts). The presumably well-intentioned developers and data scientists were told their work would help put an end to human trafficking, but the tools they developed are designed for police to target and track adults engaging in consensual prostitution. The January hackathon, funded by Thomson Reuters' Data Innovation Lab, gave birth to what Demand Abolition is calling an "arrest app," which "allows officers to easily log arrest info into a national database, which Dart's team can then use to identify trends in buyer demographics." During the last John Suppression Initiative, cops logged info from 80 percent of all arrests into the database. Keeping the personal info of people arrested for prostitution-related charges in one handy national database might help with whatever new Vice-Squad-on-Steroids agenda that Dart is designing. But it's obviously worrisome from a privacy perspective. Keeping all that sensitive information in one place would seem to make it a ripe target for hackers, but nowhere do Demand Abolition or Dart even mention cybersecurity. It's also important to note that the people being logged in the database have merely been arrested for, not convicted of, any crimes. Yet the arrest app isn't concerned with case outcomes. If police arrest someone and the charges are later dropped or beat, that person will still be counted in Dart's database as having been picked up in a sex sting. I reached out to the Cook County Sheriff's Office to get more details about the app and database—what security measures are in place, whether the info collected is subject to public-records requests, etc.—and will update if I hear back. Update: Cook County Sheriff's Office Press Secretary Sophia Ansari said no individual names or case numbers will be entered into the database. "Demographic information entered includes age range, race, marital status and education level–but that information is never connected to an individual or a number that could be connected to an individual," Ansari said in an email. Nor does the database reflect what ultimately happens with cases. It's meant to simply track info on solicitation arrests and not any subsequent outcomes of those cases.[...]

What Should We Do About Suspicious Muslims?

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 23:24:00 -0400

(image) What can we learn from the fact that a half-dozen Muslim terrorists on American soil had gotten onto the radar screen of U.S. law enforcement before committing their foul deeds? One lesson, as Scott Shackford has observed in these pages, is that the seeming detection failures of targeted investigations render absurd all the time wasted on dumb, constitutionally questionable mass surveillance. But that still leaves the Monday-morning quarterback questions of did the FBI blow it, and what could law enforcement do differently?

We chew on these subjects and more on tonight's Red Eye w/ Tom Shillue at 3 a.m. on Fox News, where I will be panelizing along with comedians Alli Breen and Sam Roberts, and Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth. Other topics include whether Jack Shafer is an American hero or anti-hysteria hysteric (or both), and whether this barftastic Joss Whedon celebrity vote-against-Trump ad will turn us all into alt-righties sooner rather than later.

To whet your late-night appetite, here's the last time I appeared on Red Eye:

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ACLU: Connecticut State Troopers Caught On Tape Fabricating Charges Against Protester

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 09:15:00 -0400

One Friday evening last September, Connecticut resident Michael Picard was doing what he usually does: standing on a strip of grass by an Interstate onramp and protesting the government.

Picard, a local privacy activist, often protests police DUI checkpoints, which he believes are unconstitutional and a waste of money. That night he was holding a sign warning motorists of a DUI checkpoint farther up the road. Picard, like any good protester these days, also had a camera to document his interactions with police.

What he ended capturing on video is now at the center of a civil rights lawsuit filed Monday on Picard's behalf by the Connecticut ACLU against three state troopers, whom Picard claims illegally seized his camera and then conspired to fabricate charges against him. Unbeknownst to the officers, though, the camera was still recording.

Watch the video:

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According the lawsuit, Connecticut state trooper John Barone confronted Picard, saying he had received complaints from passing motorists that Picard, who also open-carries a handgun, was waving his gun in the air. (The ACLU says there were never any such complaints and that Picard kept his gun holstered at all times.) After claiming it was illegal for Picard to film him, Barone snatched the camera and put it on the roof of his police cruiser while he and other officers discussed what charges to hit Picard with.

"You want to punch a number on this either way?" Barone asked one of his supervising officers, police slang for opening an investigation and entering a case number. "Gotta cover our ass."

"We could hit him with reckless use of the highway by a pedestrian and creating a public disturbance," Sgt. John Jacobi suggested.

"And then we claim in backup we had multiple people who stopped to complain," Master Sgt. Patrick Torneo added later in the conversation. "They didn't want to stay and offer a statement, so we took our own course of action."

The officers ticketed Picard, returned his camera and gun, and told him to protest in another location. It took Picard more than a year to get the criminal charges against him dismissed.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU says the three state troopers retaliated against Picard, violating his First Amendment rights to protest and film the government, as well as his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

"Community members like me have a right to film government officials doing their jobs in public, and we should be able to protest without fearing political retribution from law enforcement," Picard said in a statement. "As an advocate for free speech, I'm deeply disappointed that these police officers ignored my rights, particularly because two of the troopers involved were supervisors who should be setting an example for others. By seeking to hold these three police officers accountable, I hope that I can prevent the same thing from happening to someone else."

A spokesperson for the Connecticut State Police said the issue was subject to an ongoing investigation and declined to comment.

When Anti-Left and Anti-Right Repression Combine

Wed, 14 Sep 2016 10:00:00 -0400

David Beito and Marcus Witcher begin their paper in the latest Independent Review with a familiar-sounding story about a witch-hunting 1950s congressional committee demanding that a witness name names: Nobody was quite sure what Edward A. Rumely would say in testimony before the U.S House Select Committee on Lobbying in 1950. Would he name names, plead the Fifth Amendment, or defy the committee and thus risk possible jail time? Rumely chose defiance, declaring, "I will not give you the names of people who have bought our books. You are invading our constitutional rights." Instead of the Fifth, he pleaded the First Amendment. Even before this encounter, the chairman of the House committee, Frank Buchanan, had warned that the unfriendly witness risked a contempt resolution. He vowed not to "permit Mr. Rumely or his organization to divert this hearing into an argument over constitutional rights." It may sound like a Hollywood reenactment of the McCarthy era, but the Buchanan Committee wasn't hunting reds—not yet, anyway. Rumely was the co-founder of the Committee to Uphold Constitutional Government, a group that had been launched to stop Franklin Roosevelt's court-packing scheme and had gone on to oppose much of Roosevelt and Truman's policy agendas. The people Rumely was refusing to identify were the people who had purchased his group's books in bulk. The Buchanan Committee was investigating "lobbies," and it wanted to know who was buying the books on the grounds that this would reveal who Rumely's financial backers were. Beito and Witcher frame the Buchanan Committee's probe as the last act of the first Brown Scare, Leo Ribuffo's term for the '30s/'40s hunt for subversives on the right. But by the end of the story, they note, the congressmen were red-baiting as well as brown-baiting. Eager to prove its balance, the committee decided to investigate the Civil Rights Congress (CRC), a clash that culminated with the committee demanding that the group reveal the donors who had contributed to the CRC's defense of a black man facing execution in Jim Crow Mississippi. Along the way, one Georgia congressman denounced CRC witness William Patterson as a "black son of a bitch" and a "chocolate covered Communist." Transpartisan alliances formed. When Congress considered a resolution to hold Rumely in contempt, the opposition came from conservatives—and from Vito Marcantonio, the most left-wing man in the House. When Patterson was the one facing a contempt resolution, several southern Democrats switched sides and supported the measure, but the opposition that remained was still a radical/conservative coalition. Both resolutions passed, but the Supreme Court eventually ruled in Rumely's favor, a precedent that proved useful to people in other parts of the spectrum. "Joseph McCarthy's leftist targets cited United States v. Rumely when refusing to name names," Beito and Witcher note. And "in NAACP v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court cited United States v. Rumely when it upheld the NAACP's right to deny the state of Alabama the names of its members." It's a largely forgotten chapter in the history of civil liberties, and it should be especially engrossing to anyone interested in how anti-left and anti-right repression can feed on each other. I've barely scratched the surface of the story; to read the whole thing, go here.[...]

Trump's Putin Praise Highlights His Authoritarianism

Wed, 14 Sep 2016 00:01:00 -0400

Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine, use the same word to describe Donald Trump's praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin: "unpatriotic." Satisfying as it may be for Democrats to deploy that adjective against the nominee of a party known for its flag-waving jingoism, it is neither accurate nor adequate in describing what's truly alarming about Trump's admiration of the Russian strongman. "He is really very much of a leader," Trump told NBC's Matt Lauer last week. "I mean, you can say, 'Oh, isn't that a terrible thing.' The man has very strong control over a country." Trump, who also cited Putin's "82 percent approval rating," allowed that Russia has "a very different system" of government, and "I don't happen to like the system." Nevertheless, he said, "in that system, he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader." Clinton slammed Trump for "taking the astonishing step of suggesting that he preferred the Russian president to our American president," which she called "unpatriotic and insulting." Kaine said the "irrational hostility toward President Obama, which started the very first day of his term from some of these people, is unpatriotic, and we've got to call it out." Note how Clinton and Kaine equated Trump's insult to Obama with an insult to the nation. If you hate Obama, they suggested, you hate America. Teddy Roosevelt, no stranger to jingoism, thought conflating love of country with love of the president is the opposite of patriotism. "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong," he wrote in 1918, "is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." Patriotism is in any case a dubious virtue at best. An emotional attachment to the land in which you happen to be born is natural, but when elevated to a moral principle it easily morphs into state worship and warmongering. As a guide to judgment, patriotism is utterly subjective and unreliable. If it is unpatriotic for an American to say Putin is a better leader than Obama, it is equally unpatriotic for a Russian to say Obama is a better leader than Putin. The problem with Trump's comments about Putin is not that they show a lack of patriotism. The problem is that they reflect authoritarian instincts no president of a liberal democracy should have. Trump cannot credibly claim to dislike Russia's system of government while admiring Putin's strong leadership, because that system is what makes his strong leadership possible. In Russia's "highly centralized, authoritarian political system," the State Department notes, the executive branch dominates the legislature, pressures the judiciary, and routinely flouts notional guarantees of civil liberties. According to the department's 2015 report on human rights in Russia, "the government increasingly instituted a range of measures to suppress dissent," including politically motivated arrests and prosecutions; discriminated against sexual, religious, and ethnic minorities; and "failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity." The report says torture by police was common, there were "numerous extrajudicial killings," and "corruption was widespread" in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Freedom House, which classifies Russia as "not free," reports that Putin's regime last year "intensified its tight grip on the media, saturating the information landscape with nationalist propaganda while suppressing the most popular alternative voices." The report also notes that "the judiciary lacks independence from the executive branch," "there is little transparency and accountability in the day-to-day workings of the government," and "vague laws on extremism grant the authorities great discretion to crack down on any speech, organization, or activity that lacks official support." Trump's Putin [...]

What If You Were Mistakenly Put on a Watchlist?

Fri, 09 Sep 2016 00:01:00 -0400

In the 1985 dystopian science fiction movie Brazil the plot centers on the authorities' apprehension of an innocent man named Archibald Buttle. He was mistaken for the outlaw, Archibald Tuttle, after a fly landed on a printer head in a government office, thus causing the "T" to print as a "B" on the arrest warrant. Typical of its dark humor, the movie's real criminal is an unlicensed heating and air-conditioning repairman played by Robert De Niro. It's a satire of our modern society's impenetrable bureaucracies and the powerlessness we can feel when we're at their mercy. No wonder the Orange County Register named it one of the best libertarian movies of all time. I'm reminded of Brazil as I read news about federal efforts to crack down on "bad guys." Conservatives often express support for the "waterboarding" of terrorists. That sounds OK, provided the bureaucrats actually got the right guy. Same goes with those "no fly" lists that the Transportation Security Administration uses to keep suspected terrorists off airplanes. The lists and their criteria are secret. There's no due process, meaning that if you get pulled out of line you have no way to appeal that decision. The New York Times reported on an 8-year-old who a few years ago was stuck on a TSA "watch" list. Often, people with names similar to someone else's—think Buttle versus Tuttle—get stopped. Liberals can be just as unconcerned as conservatives over the veracity of these lists. For instance, California is the only state with the Armed Prohibited Person System (APPS). It's a state Department of Justice database used to send agents to people's homes to confiscate their weapons after the state determines they no longer are eligible to own them (e.g., after being convicted of a crime or being the subject of a restraining order). No one wants dangerous people to have access to an arsenal, but we again run up against the problem of lists. Anyone who has compiled lists realizes how quickly they become out of date, or how easy it is for a clerk to misspell a name. An analysis of the APPS list from the state auditor and a gun-rights group found that anywhere from 37 percent to 60 percent of the people on the list actually had a legal right to still own firearms. In a free society, it's not OK for an innocent person to have guns confiscated or kept from flying because of some mistaken entry on a ledger. It's infuriating how difficult it is to clear one's name after an error is detected. There are few things more aggravating than clearing up bureaucratic snafus—whether it's with a government agency or health insurance company. In August, the California state auditor looked at the CalGang program, which is a database, or list, used voluntarily by the state's law enforcement agencies to track gang members. The recent audit—focusing on four agencies, including the Santa Ana Police Department—found wild inaccuracies that are causing real harm to real people. For instance, the auditor analyzed the names of 100 people entered into the database and found "they lacked adequate support" for including 13 people on the list. Furthermore, "we found 42 individuals in CalGang who were supposedly younger than one year of age at the time of entry." Again, no one has sympathy for gang members. But what about people who aren't gang members who are included in the list? They are monitored by the police, "potentially violating their privacy rights," the auditor notes. It can also harm their job prospects, given that a number of agencies use the database to disqualify applicants. Santa Ana police officials agreed with the recommendations and vowed to correct the problems, which is the right attitude. But I have little faith in any government list of the citizenry that's been created without due process. We all want to get tough on criminals, but we have to be sure that innocent folks don't land on the list because of a bad printer, a dead fly or a[...]

Ex Top Cop: We Need a New Model of Policing

Thu, 18 Aug 2016 13:00:00 -0400

The horrific deaths of Philando Castillo in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, give us an updated and up-close glimpse of police encounters gone bad—but they are rooted in decades of problematic policing in America. "Historically in this country, the police have never really been the friends of the black community," says Neill Franklin, a former officer with the Baltimore Police Department and current executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (L.E.A.P).

Franklin talked with Reason TV Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie at this year's Freedom Fest in Las Vegas, Nevada, pointing out that slavery may have ended officially in the late 1800s, but a lot of policing was born out of that era and the one that followed, when police deliberately enforced laws in ways that targeted black citizens. Even today, police are tasked with enforcing laws—from driving without a license to missing a court date—that tend to target poor communities and communities of color.

"You know a $250 fine doesn't mean much to people who have money," says Franklin. "But when you enforce these policies in poor communities, a hundred dollar fine can devastate a family."

It comes down to the need for a new model of policing in America, says Franklin, not just tweaks of the same old system. "What we have now is not like trying to fix a broken car, this car was a used car in the first place."

Approximately 9:57.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to ReasonTV's YouTube Channel to receive notification when new material goes live.

San Diego Police Used Stingray to Solve Common Crimes, Failed to Mention Use to Judges

Wed, 03 Aug 2016 11:18:00 -0400

An investigation by The San Diego Union-Tribune reveals that the city's police department used a StingRay device on at least 30 occasions since 2011 to collect suspects' cellphone information. Often, it was used to investigate common crimes without a warrant specifically pointing out its use. StingRays—a brand of International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers—are devices that trick cellphones into connecting to them by simulating a cellphone tower. After connecting, a cellphone will transmit data to the StingRay, including information regarding calls, text messages, and the phone's location. San Diego police have said they only use the instrument to collect intelligence regarding location. These devices were marketed by the federal government as tools needed to track terrorism suspects. But privacy advocates have criticized their use, as they gather data not only from suspects but also from anyone else who happens to be nearby. In addition, police have often used them without a warrant and to deal with street crimes such as burglaries and assaults that have nothing to do with terrorism. It's difficult to know exactly how the device in San Diego was used thanks to a non-disclosure agreement between the police department, the FBI, and StingRay manufacturer the Harris Corporation. Documents collected by the Union-Tribune include pages that are "a solid block of black from the top of the page to the bottom." We do know, however, that police used the equipment in their everyday work—and that it met with mixed success. As the newspaper's Greg Moran wrote: In January San Diego police used it to try to locate a man who was a suspect in a series of vehicle burglaries. He was also wanted for robbery, burglary and making a criminal threat. Police had been able to get a rough location of the phone using GPS data [from] a different and less powerful surveillance method, but said the Stingray was needed to "narrow the search in order to locate the suspect." They found the phone at the home of a girlfriend of the suspect, then used the Stingray to follow the woman to see if she would lead them to the suspect, but he was not found, the records say. It's unclear if an arrest was ever made. Search warrants for the case remain sealed. Lawsuits brought by civil liberties groups reveal that when San Diego police sought warrants in many of these cases, they failed to mention the StingRay would be used to collect data, Moran reported. Court documents instead show they asked to use different devices that are not as powerful. The Los Angeles Police Department was caught doing something similar in 2013. There has been some progress toward controlling the use of IMSI catchers across the country. California now has laws requiring law enforcement to get a court order before using the gadgets. In March, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals ruled that police units could not track someone's phone without a warrant. Additionally, a federal judge in July withheld evidence in a case because federal agents failed to get a warrant prior to tracking a suspect's location, which led them to discover said evidence. And Kelly Aviles of the First Amendment Coalition told the Union-Tribune that since judges have become more aware of how the StingRay is used, they can start asking tougher questions.[...]

Body-Worn Cameras: Most Major Police Departments Fail at Accountability and Transparency

Tue, 02 Aug 2016 13:38:00 -0400

Body-worn cameras are being widely adopted by police departments around the country as an important tool for increasing officer accountability and transparency. For example, a 2015 study found that wearing body cameras reduced officer use-of-force incidents by 50 percent and citizen complaints by 90 percent. However, more recent research finds that police use-of-force declines only when officer discretion to turn cameras on or off is minimized. In other words, watched cops are polite cops. Today, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the technology evaluation group Upturn released their updated scorecard evaluating the civil rights safeguards of body worn camera policies for 50 major city police departments. The scorecard uses eight criteria to evaluate the body-worn camera policies of each police department. The criteria are: Makes its policy publicly and readily available; Limits officer discretion on when to record; Addresses personal privacy concerns; Prohibits officer pre-report viewing; Limits retention of footage; Protects footage against tampering and misuse; Makes footage available to individuals filing complaints; and Limits the use of biometric technologies. Each of the policy areas are scored as fully, partially or not at all satisfying these eight criteria. So what did they find? Only 26 of the 50 departments fully satisfied the criterion of making it easy for citizens to find their body-worn camera (BWC) policies on their websites. The scorecard also cites specific departments as models for implementing each of the criteria. For example, San Francisco has a designated webpage that updates the department's BWC policy after every biweekly BWC working group meeting. Twenty-two departments had policies that set limits on the discretion of officers to record interactions with citizens. The Leadership Conference researchers noted that Chicago has a policy that clearly specifies when officers must record and requires officers to provide concrete justifications (on camera) for failing to record. Interestingly, the body camera of the Chicago police officer who shot and killed a young black man, Paul O'Neal, last week was not functioning. The officers involved in the shooting have been relieved of their police powers. Only 11 departments fully satisfied the criterion for protecting the privacy of vulnerable individuals (e.g. victims of sex crimes) from being recorded without their prior informed consent. The model policy cited is used by the Philadelphia police department which requires that police officers to deactivate cameras when entering a residence, hospital room, or at the request of any crime victim, witness, or informant. If practical, police are supposed to ask permission to record inside residences and record any consent given on camera. None of the 50 departments had policies that fully satisfy the criterion for limiting officer review of body-worn camera video prior to filing their reports of an encounter. In fact, 40 departments allow — or even encourage — officers to view relevant footage before filing an initial written report or statement. The idea behind prohibiting pre-report review is that filing an initial written report from memory would provides greater context to what occurred and prevents the officer from conforming his statements to just what is shown on the video. The Oakland, California police department had the best policy. Officers are required to submit a written report of the incident to an investigator first and then given an opportunity to view the video and subsequently amend the report. Only 11 departments fully satisfied the criterion on retaining unflagged footage for no more than six months. If the video is not useful in an investigation or relevant to a complaint about officer behavior, there is no reason it should be retained. Dallas is [...]

Obama May Backtrack on Military Equipment Ban For Police

Tue, 26 Jul 2016 15:48:00 -0400

(image) President Barack Obama will review a year-old executive order prohibiting the transfer of military-grade weapons to police, according to Reuters.

The president signed Executive Order 13688 in May 2015, banning the transfer of certain military equipment between armed forces and police departments. This included such items as tracked armored vehicles, weaponized vehicles, grenade launchers, and camouflage uniforms. The order came as a result of a 2014 government-wide review of military equipment provided to law enforcement agencies, which was ordered in the wake of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

While the order didn't ban all military equipment—certain explosives and armored vehicles were still allowed—it did restrain how these various items could be acquired. And if police departments wanted an item that was prohibited, they would have to purchase it from a private vendor, often at a hefty price.

All of this may soon change: Eight police organization leaders met with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on July 11—three days after five officers were killed in Dallas—to discuss possible reforms.

Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, was one of the people in attendance. He told Reuters most police departments cannot afford to pay for this equipment, and that this leaves officers vulnerable to attacks. As an example he pointed to grenade launchers, which he said can also be used to launch tear gas into rowdy crowds. "The White House thought this kind of gear was intimidating to people, but they didn't know the purpose it serves," he said.

Yet Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says that while police should be able to use this equipment in high-risk situations—such as an active sniper—forces often do not reserve it for such circumstances. "Police departments have been using military equipment to carry out day-to-day operations," she says. "As we saw with the protests in Ferguson and Baton Rouge, a militarized response only escalates tensions and threatens public safety."

When protesters marched in Baton Rouge earlier this month to protest the killing by police of Alton Sterling, more than 100 people were arrested despite the fact that they were demonstrating peacefully. Video footage shows officers, decked out in riot gear and holding rifles, pushing protesters onto private property before handcuffing them.

The ACLU released a report in June 2014 detailing the excessive militarization of police departments. The organization notes that this phenomenon tends to disproportionately affect minority communities and undermines civil liberties.

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment. A White House official told Reuters, however, that the administration frequently reviews the equipment that can be transferred from the military to police departments to ensure that law enforcement agencies have the materials they need to do their jobs.

To Stop Terrorism, Trump Wants to Block Immigration From Most Countries

Mon, 25 Jul 2016 06:30:00 -0400

In an interview on NBC's Meet the Press yesterday, Donald Trump offered yet another version of his plan to fight terrorism by restricting immigration. What was originally "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on" has now become a suspension of "immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place." What does it mean for a country to be "compromised by terrorism"? Since Trump said "we have problems in Germany and we have problems with France," he seems to have in mind not just countries that sponsor terrorism or host terrorist groups but any country where terrorism occurs. That would cover the vast majority of countries, including the United States itself and U.S. allies such as Australia, Canada, the U.K., the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, and Israel. According to a 2015 report from the Institute for Economics and Peace, just 45 of the 162 countries it examined had no terrorist attacks in 2014. Hence when Meet the Press host Chuck Todd suggested that the latest iteration of Trump's exclusion proposal "feels like a slight rollback," Trump responded that "you could say it's an expansion." The main advantage of the new plan, Trump said, is that "I'm looking now at territories." He explained the lesson he learned from criticism of his original plan, which was condemned even by the man who later became his running mate. "People were so upset when I used the word Muslim," he said. "'Oh, you can't use the word Muslim.' Remember this. And I'm OK with that, because I'm talking territory instead of Muslim." But if the territory talk is simply a cover for excluding Muslims, as Trump seems to be suggesting, that would be equally unconstitutional. As the American Civil Liberties Union notes, "intent to discriminate on the basis of religion, even hidden behind pretextual religious neutrality, violates the Establishment Clause and Equal Protection." Trump's treatment of the constitutional issue gives you a sense of how much he cares about civil liberties: Our Constitution is great. But it doesn't necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, OK? Now, we have a religious, you know, everybody wants to be protected. And that's great. And that's the wonderful part of our Constitution. I view it differently. Why are we committing suicide? Why are we doing that? But you know what? I live with our Constitution. I love our Constitution. I cherish our Constitution. The phrase Trump vaguely remembers is "the Constitution is not a suicide pact," a favorite refuge of authoritarians. Taken literally, it means the government should not be so punctilious about following the Constitution that the nation's very existence is threatened. But terrorism does not represent an existential threat to the United States, so even if Trump's proposal were an effective way to stop terrorism, failing to adopt it would not amount to anything like suicide. In practice, however, the phrase is often applied to situations that fall far short of existential threats. The first time the phrase was used in a Supreme Court opinion, for instance, the threat was an inflammatory speech that a suspended Catholic priest named Arthur Terminiello delivered to the Christian Veterans of America in Chicago. Terminiello was convicted of disorderly conduct based on a jury instruction that equated that offense with behavior that "stirs the public to anger, invites dispute, brings about a condition of unrest, or creates a disturbance." Overturning Terminiello's conviction in a 1949 opinion by Justice William O. Douglas, the Supreme Court noted that "a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute." In [...]

The ACLU Counts the Ways Trump Would Violate Civil Liberties

Fri, 15 Jul 2016 10:17:00 -0400

Yesterday the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a 27-page analysis of the constitutional and statutory violations entailed by some of Donald Trump's most outlandish policy proposals, including a ban on Muslims entering the United States, deportation of all illegal immigrants, heightened surveillance of Muslims and Americans generally, legalized torture, and relaxed rules for winning libel suits. Some highlights: Muslim Ban. As Trump originally described it—"a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," apparently including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents—this proposal clearly would violate the Fifth Amendment's guarantees of due process and equal protection (understood to be part of due process in this context) as well as the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom and its prohibition of religious favoritism. Even if the Muslim ban were limited to tourists and other temporary visitors, the ACLU argues, it would still violate the First Amendment. Although the Supreme Court upheld blatantly racist immigration policies in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it says, "There can be no question that such racial exclusion laws would not pass constitutional muster today." In any case, "there has never, even during the period of racial exclusion, been an immigration ban on the basis of religion," a fact that "likely reflects the priority of religious neutrality since the nation's founding." The ACLU adds that Trump's Muslim exclusion plan would be unconstitutional even if it were disguised as a ban based on nationality, as he more recently suggested it might be, because "intent to discriminate on the basis of religion, even hidden behind pretextual religious neutrality, violates the Establishment Clause and Equal Protection." Mass Deportation. While there is nothing inherently unconstitutional about deporting lots of people (a policy practiced by our current president, as the ACLU notes), the promise Trump has made—removing all 11 million unauthorized residents within two years—cannot be accomplished (assuming it can be accomplished at all) without massive violations of civil liberties. "Trump's mass deportation scheme would mean arresting more than 15,000 people a day on immigration charges, seven days a week, 365 days a year," the ACLU says. "There is no conceivable mechanism to accomplish the roundup that Trump has promised while respecting basic constitutional rights." Since "undocumented immigrants are not readily identifiable as such," such an undertaking would entail "tactics like suspicionless interrogations and arrests, unjustified and pretextual traffic stops, warrantless searches of workplaces and homes, and door-to-door raids in immigrant neighborhoods." If "practiced on a huge scale throughout the country, those activities would systematically violate the Fourth Amendment." The ACLU also argues that a lack of sufficient capacity in the immigration court system would make it impossible to respect the due process rights of residents who claim they are not subject to deportation.  The Great Wall. Like mass deportation, the wall Trump has promised to build along the border with Mexico (at the Mexican government's expense) would not by itself violate the Constitution. But the ACLU argues that it would "exacerbate the current wasteful militarization of our southwest border that daily confronts border residents going to school or work with checkpoints, roving patrols, almost 20,000 heavily armed Border Patrol agents, drones, and other weapons of war." Trump's vision would mean more routine hassles, including unconstitutional searches and seizures, for citizens and legal residents who live or travel near the border. Muslim Tracking. Trump has spoken favor[...]

Remy: Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (Civil Liberties Edition)

Fri, 01 Jul 2016 12:19:00 -0400

Remy channels his inner Toby Keith to send terrorists a message.

Written and performed by Remy. Produced and edited by Austin Bragg.

Approximately 2:45 minutes.

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My daddy came to this country
he escaped from Iraq
and he came with nothing but a dream
of the American flag

He wanted my mother, my sister
our carpet and me
to grow up and live happy
in the land of the free

Now this nation that I love
is under terror attack
another sucker punch came flying in
from this punk in the back

You think you can start a fight
and we'll roll over and die
man we'll light up your world
like the Fourth of July

We're gonna tap this guy's phone
take his rifle and then
force companies to make software with
backdoor access and then

We'll be raising his taxes
make him pay for these toys
and whenever he goes flying we'll be
cupping his boys

Yeah it'll feel like the whole wide world
is raining down on you
brought to you courtesy
of the red, white, and blue

We'll run up debt and be
so underwater on loans
you'd swear Ted Kennedy
had probably driven us home

You think you can pick a fight
and make us change our free ways
we'll put a dude in his ass
it's the American way

We'll tap this guy's browser history
have due process decreased
and when he bites a shape in Pop Tarts
we're gonna call the police

We'll put your name in the papers
you'll be famous in malls
and when this guy goes to New York
they'll be cupping his balls

Yeah don't it feel like the whole wide world
is raining down on you?
that's brought to you courtesy
of the red, white, and blue


Has Obama Lived Up to His Soaring Campaign Speeches? We Asked His Former Chief Speechwriter

Mon, 27 Jun 2016 12:20:00 -0400

In 2005, when then-Senator Barack Obama needed a wordsmith to capture the soaring spirit of his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, he hired a 24-year-old named Jon Favreau. Fresh from college, Favreau had earned a sterling reputation as a speechwriter for John Kerry during his presidential run, and now he was tasked with helping lift Obama to the presidency.

The wunderkind political messager, who Obama has called his "mind reader" and considered one of his most valued confidantes, served as his chief speechwriter from 2005 to 2013.

"Favs," as the president calls him, was named as one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in 2009. He currently co-hosts the podcast Keepin' It 1600 and writes a political column for The Ringer. He was also a speaker at last weekend's Politicon.

Reason TV's Justin Monticello sat down with Favreau to discuss Trump's approach to messaging, why he now supports Hillary after attacking her in 2008, how the Libertarian Party can appeal to voters, and whether Obama's presidency has lived up to the lofty promises and inspiring rhetoric that Favreau crafted.

18:47 minutes.

Produced and Edited by Justin Monticello. Shot by Alexis Garcia and Alex Manning. Music by Pavel Malkov and RW Smith.

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Sacrifice Civil Liberties? You First

Mon, 27 Jun 2016 12:00:00 -0400

Terrorism and gun violence aren't just directly dangerous. Even the national conversation about them is: You could get whiplash from watching liberals and conservatives switch sides. Back during the Bush administration, security hawks such as Vice President Dick Cheney took the view that public safety was more important than abstract considerations like individual rights or constitutional law; practices such as indefinite detention and waterboarding might be disturbing, but they saved lives. As Cheney said at one point in late 2008, "I think it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation against further attacks like what happened on 9/11." Liberals, by and large, found this sort of talk horrifying. They spilled millions of gallons of ink excoriating the Bush administration for sacrificing America's most treasured principles—due process, the presumption of innocence, the right to privacy—on the altar of national security. Conservatives in turn spilled millions of gallons of ink defending them. They took the view of David Addison, Cheney's chief of staff, who told a White House lawyer that if he ruled against a particular counter-terrorism program, "the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands." Yet when there is a mass shooting—as in Orlando—the two sides switch. Liberals start arguing that public safety overrides constitutional liberties. In fact, they contend, protecting public safety is so important that we should take a pair of scissors to the Bill of Rights and cut out the Second Amendment, if that's what it takes to get meaningful gun control passed. In the meantime, they say, can't we at least prevent people on the terrorism watch list from buying firearms? Conservatives, meanwhile, turn into civil libertarians—at least with regard to guns. Keeping guns from people on the terrorist watch list would violate due process, they insist, especially because many people don't belong on the list in the first place. And in any event it would be wrong to curtail the constitutional rights of millions of law-abiding people for the sake of preventing the next mass shooting. Except if those Americans happen to be Muslim, that is. Many conservatives who bristled at broad-brush accusations when the Department of Homeland Security warned about the danger of homegrown terrorism from right-wing groups, who find the idea of "profiling gun owners" insulting, see nothing wrong with efforts to monitor entire Muslim communities, as the New York Police Department infamously did a few years ago, or "patrol and secure" them, as Ted Cruz has suggested. (This from the man who tweeted, "religious liberty for me has been a lifelong passion" and who wrote in National Review that "on questions of the Constitution—and the Bill of Rights and our fundamental liberties—I, for one, am content to stand with Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison.") The two sides also borrow other arguments from each other. After Jared Loughner's 2011 shooting rampage in Tucson, many liberals wasted no time blaming conservatives such as Sarah Palin and conservative rhetoric generally. Republicans and conservatives were responsible for the "gale of anger" that had produced so many threats, wrote The New York Times: When the right keeps insisting that government is evil, is it any wonder unstable people act on that belief? Conservatives ridiculed such attempts to blame the actions of a mentally deranged lone gunman on an entire political philosophy. Now many conservatives want to blame an entire religion: Islam. You can find plenty of conservative pieces arguing that, given Islam's beli[...]