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American Civil Liberties Union


New Jersey Argued That a Calm Manner Could Be Used Against You in Police Interrogations. Luckily, It Lost.

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 13:30 -0400

The NJ Supreme Court ruled that a suspect’s tone and demeanor could not nullify words invoking the right to remain silent.

“That’s all I got to say.”

This sounds like an assertion of the right to remain silent, doesn’t it? In a unanimous decision on Wednesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that, in fact, it is.

The defendant in New Jersey v. S.S., charged with sexually assaulting his daughter, was interrogated about the alleged offense for about an hour before he said, “No, that’s all I got to say. That’s it.” But the interrogation continued.  S.S. told the police he was done speaking two more times. Nevertheless, the police officers continued their efforts to coax a confession out of him, telling him that that they knew there was “something you need to get out.”

S.S. did what many people do after being questioned for hours, even though he had told them he didn’t want to talk: He started answering.

New Jersey courts have recognized that the right to silence is a fundamental protection the Constitution affords people accused of crimes. Unlike federal law, New Jersey law doesn’t require suspects to invoke their right to silence clearly and unequivocally. If a suspect expresses a wish to remain silent during an interrogation, even if that person seems to equivocate at some point, police in New Jersey  must either stop the questioning or ask clarifying questions to determine whether the suspect has invoked the right to remain silent.

The trial court ruled that S.S. had invoked that right when he said,  “that’s all I got to say,” and suppressed all statements made after that point in the interrogation. Although S.S.’s words were nearly identical to the language previously found by the state Supreme Court to be sufficient to invoke the right to silence, the New Jersey Appellate Division decided that S.S.’s calm tone meant he wasn’t actually invoking his right to silence. The Supreme Court thus had to address whether police and courts can use a suspect’s “tone” to eclipse the words used. The answer is no.  In reversing the appellate court’s decision, the Supreme Court wrote:

“Whatever the tone of a suspect’s voice, whether it is loud or soft or unchanged or shifting, or whether the suspect is calm or jittery or submissive or antagonistic, words will make a difference and oftentimes have an objective meaning to reasonable law enforcement officers. … Elevating the importance of tone over the import of words, as the Appellate Division did here, can lead to injecting a high degree of subjectivity into the analysis.”

The ACLU of New Jersey’s Rebecca Livengood argued at the state Supreme Court that relying on tone to find that a suspect has not invoked the right to silence raises serious equal protection concerns under the New Jersey and federal constitutions.

There are widely acknowledged reasons for S.S., a Black man who was 24 years old at the time of his interrogation, to answer questions from police with a calm and composed demeanor. As many scholars have observed, and as both President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder have noted, centuries of coercive and violent interactions with police have led Black men to adopt a calm and deferential tone when dealing with law enforcement. From a young age, Black boys are told that they need to make an effort to appear non-threatening to avoid police violence.

S.S. was using tactic of self-protection.  The ACLU of New Jersey argued that for the Appellate Division to find that S.S. didn’t mean what he said because of his tone in essence leaves Black men with an impossible choice: Speak to police calmly and be found to have forfeited your constitutional rights, or speak firmly and risk being seen as an aggressor.

By rejecting the appellate court’s reliance on tone, the New Jersey Supreme Court helps protect suspects who invoke their right to silence – regardless of their race.

I’m Suing Texas Because the Legislature Passed a Bill that Discriminates Against My Town

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 13:30 -0400

We have amazing police officers in El Cenizo. They should not be enforcing immigration laws. I was born in Corpus Christi and I first came to live in the border town of El Cenizo as a 9-year-old kid. At that time, the place had just incorporated as a town after being a colonia, an informal community without running water or electricity. Most of the people I grew up with were U.S. citizens, like me, but everyone had Mexican roots. The life we lived was “in between”: I put ketchup on my huevos revueltos, I listened to cumbias texanas, and I played trumpet in my high school band. People’s contributions mattered — their kindness to neighbors, their work on clean-up crews, their payments of municipal taxes to help build our town — not their immigration status. Now I’m mayor. I’m suing the state of Texas because of a new law, Senate Bill 4, that would give a green light to police officers to investigate a person’s immigration status during routine events like traffic stops. I believe this would lead to widespread racial profiling and illegal arrests of citizens and non-citizens — people like the residents of El Cenizo, including me. Any of us could be mistaken for foreigners because of the way we look and speak. Many people from my town who are U.S. citizens don’t speak English — why should they have to prove their right to be here, and how would they do it? The law would also prohibit our municipality from adopting any policies that ensure all individuals, including those who are undocumented or have undocumented family members, feel comfortable working with our officials — even though we have had policies against asking questions about residency status since 1999. And the law would allow state officials to fine, jail, and remove from office any elected or appointed official who limits cooperation with federal immigration officials. My mother, for one, is worried that will be me. For years, I thought El Cenizo was on a steady path of progress. All over Texas, colonias improved materially, and their people gained more opportunities. When I first came to El Cenizo as a child, things were very different. I remember when it rained heavily, our streets were like little flowing rivers that were our swimming pools; we would let the water current drag us to the end of the street. Our house was a structure of concrete floors, four walls, and a roof, with no insulation or windows. On cold winter nights, we’d shove the two beds together and sleep crammed in all together, wearing almost all the clothes we owned, just to keep warm. Immigration agents were a constant presence, and people were frequently harassed and sometimes abused. Now all of our streets are paved, we have some sidewalks, we have plenty of street lights, and we’ve built a park and a library. We have a small fire department, and a police department with three to five officers. Regardless of their immigration status, people feel free to walk down the street or report a problem to the police. Cops here concern themselves with issues that are important for our community. They’ll knock on your door if you have an old sofa in your yard, if you’re not cutting the grass, or if you’re keeping chickens or goats. Our police officers also handle traffic stops and risk their lives intercepting illegal narcotics that have crossed the Rio Grande. We have amazing officers, and they do great work. Their role should not be to enforce immigration rules. El Cenizo is very safe. We are not overrun by “bad hombres,” as President Trump would have you believe. I’ve been in office 13 years and I’ve yet to see a homicide here. In my experience in El Cenizo, undocumented people are extremely unlikely to commit crimes. Typically, undocumented people have other things to worry about: how to find enough work, hold down two or three jobs, provide a better future for their children. We’re already feeling the consequences of people’s fear of SB4. People are scared. They’re making adjustments to their lives to avoid contact [...]

Louisiana Locks Up More of Its Citizens Than Any Other State in the Nation, but Reform Is Coming

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 15:30 -0400

Louisiana just made history in a bipartisan move to smarter sentencing and prison alternatives. I was in the room last week when Gov. Jon Bel Edwards signed a package of 10 bills, passing the most aggressive criminal justice reform the state — and possibly the region — has ever seen. “We knew we needed to be bold, and think big, and get smart on crime,” Gov. Edwards said. “And, by the way, bold does not mean risky, it just means refusing to do something you’ve been doing just because you’ve been doing it, but really open your eyes to see the system as it is.” What Gov. Edwards is referring to here is his state’s addiction to mass incarceration. Louisiana not only tops every other state in the U.S. in its incarceration rate, but it outpaces other nations. The state’s incarceration rate is nearly 13 times as that of authoritarian China. Last year alone, corrections cost the state nearly $700 million. But 2017 may be Louisiana’s turn-around year. Republicans, Democrats, and independents put aside partisan politics and threw their weight behind a legislative package to fix Louisiana’s broken criminal justice system. The 10 bills, known as the justice reinvestment package, are expected to result in a 10 percent reduction in Louisiana’s prison population and save the state $262 million. A 10 percent reduction may sound small, but it will change the lives of thousands of people. And not just those who will be released or those who won’t end up behind bars unjustly, but the many families hurt by a broken, retribution-based system. Flozell Daniels, a reform advocate, spoke passionately and courageously in legislative hearings about losing his child to gun violence, but how continuing a system focused on revenge does not bring him or his community healing — and does not deter crime. Louisiana’s criminal justice win has nationwide implications. This historic legislative moment is a model of success that other states can follow. Reforms include reducing and eliminating mandatory minimums, reducing habitual offender penalties, and expanding parole eligibility. Juveniles sentenced to life will be eligible for parole after serving 25 years. Fines and fees will be tailored to a person’s ability to pay, and those who make consistent payments will have an opportunity to be granted debt forgiveness. This means fewer will be punished simply because they are low-income and can’t afford to pay the penalty. Seventy percent of the savings — approximately $184 million — will be strategically reinvested into programs proven to reduce recidivism and support crime victims. People who have served their time will have restored access to public assistance and increased employment opportunities through professional licensing programs. The successful passage of the justice reinvestment package was due in large part to the efforts of a diverse, grassroots coalition, Louisianans for Prison Alternatives (LPA). Formed in May 2016 by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Voices of the Experienced, LPA leveraged the voices of formerly incarcerated community leaders, clergy, and the business community. On a humid day in April, more than 600 Louisianans drove and bussed into the State Capitol in Baton Rouge to share personal stories in a day of advocacy. And throughout the session, LPA advocates delivered hundreds of community members’ postcards and letters and generated thousands of emails and phone calls to legislators. This is the largest criminal justice reform grassroots effort the state had ever seen. But we’re far from done. It’s going to take years for Louisiana to get out of the mass incarceration hole it has dug itself into. Hearing after hearing, opponents of reform fought to exclude people convicted of a violent crime from most of the package. Currently, more than half of people in state prisons across the country have been convicted of violent offenses. If Louisiana and other states are really serious about ending [...]

Ruthelle Frank, ACLU Plaintiff, Friend, and Voting Rights Champion, Passes Away at 89. The Fight for Every American’s Vote to be Counted Continues.

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 15:15 -0400

Ruthelle voted in every election since 1948. When Wisconsin infringed upon her right to vote, she fought back. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union first met Ruthelle Frank in 2011, when the then-84-year-old was fed up with her home state of Wisconsin’s attempts to infringe upon her right to vote. This month, we received the sad news that Ruthelle had passed away at the age of 89. Ruthelle cared deeply about community participation and leading by example. In fact, for 18 years she served as an elected trustee of the Village of Brokaw, Wisconsin, where she was born and would live her entire life. She was fond of saying “If you don't use it, you lose it,” and this rang especially true when it came to voting. Ruthelle voted in every election since 1948, the year in which President Truman signed the Marshall Plan and the minimum wage stood at just 40 cents. But in 2011, Wisconsin enacted one of the harshest voter ID laws in the country. Ruthelle’s longstanding participation in America’s democracy was suddenly at stake. The truth is that we can safeguard our elections and protect people’s right to vote, but Wisconsin’s law does neither. Wisconsin’s law not only mandated a photo ID to vote, but it limited that ID to a few official kinds and mandated that residents had to go to the DMV for their “free” IDs. Many Wisconsinites — including hundreds of thousands of registered voters — did not have these official state IDs. And Wisconsin did not make it easy to obtain them. For Ruthelle, the battle with state bureaucracy began when the DMV told her she needed a birth certificate to get the “free” ID. Ruthelle was born in her home in 1927, and she had never even seen her birth certificate. The state refused to accept her baptismal certificate, social security card, or marriage license as alternatives.Ruthelle tried to get a birth certificate — which cost $20 — but officials told her that her maiden name was misspelled in state records. In order to correct the misspelling, Ruthelle would need to go through a legal proceeding that could cost combined fees upwards of $200. Even then, Ruthelle didn’t know if this would be the end of it. Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from More importantly, Ruthelle deeply disagreed with the principle of a state forcing a citizen to pay to participate in American democracy. Knowing it was a step in the wrong direction for her state, Ruthelle decided to fight back and become the lead plaintiff in our lawsuit against Wisconsin’s voter ID law. Ruthelle was part of the long battle to keep Wisconsin from infringing on the voting rights of so many across the state. In December 2011, we filed our lawsuit challenging the law. In a major victory in 2014, a federal district court ruled that Wisconsin’s voter ID law was unconstitutional and struck it down entirely.In September 2014, however, a setback occurred. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling and tried to put the law into effect immediately. Fortunately, we succeeded in convincing the U.S. Supreme Court to block the law from taking effect in the November 2014 midterm elections. Even though the law then went into effect, our lawsuit — Ruthelle’s lawsuit — continued. Among other problems, we called attention to the fact that Wisconsin did not include Veterans’ Administration ID cards or 2-year technical college ID cards as among the forms of acceptable ID for voting. The state eventually backed off and agreed to accept these forms of IDs, but it took years of litigation to get there. And in another victory, the district court in our case ruled in 2016 that voters who have trouble obtaining i[...]

Jeff Sessions Wants a New War on Drugs. It Won't Work.

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 14:45 -0400

Rather than expanding the drug war, the attorney general should examine local conditions that influence crime and violence.

This piece originally appeared on The Washington Post

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is right to be concerned about recent increases in violent crime in some of our nation’s largest cities, as well as a tragic rise in drug overdoses nationwide [“Lax drug enforcement means more violence,” op-ed, June 18]. But there is little reason to believe that his response — reviving the failed “war on drugs” and imposing more mandatory minimums on nonviolent drug offenders — will do anything to solve the problem. His prescription contravenes a growing bipartisan consensus that the war on drugs has not worked. And it would exacerbate mass incarceration, the most pressing civil rights problem of the day.

Sessions’s first mistake is to conflate correlation and causation. He argues that the rise in murder rates in 2015 was somehow related to his predecessor Eric Holder’s August 2013 directive scaling back federal prosecutions in lower-level drug cases. That policy urged prosecutors to reserve the most serious charges for high-level offenses. Holder directed them to avoid unnecessarily harsh mandatory minimum sentences for defendants whose conduct involved no actual or threatened violence, and who had no leadership role in criminal enterprises or gangs, no substantial ties to drug trafficking organizations and no significant criminal history. (Mandatory minimums can lead to draconian sentences, as in the case of Ramona Brant, a first-time offender sentenced to life imprisonment for her part in distributing drugs at the direction of an abusive boyfriend). Individuals who met the stringent criteria of Holder’s policy would still be prosecuted, but they would be spared overly long mandatory minimums. Sessions offers no evidence that this policy caused the recent spikes in violent crime or drug overdoses. There are three reasons to doubt that there is any significant connection between the two.

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We're Demanding Answers on U.S. Involvement in Torture at Secret UAE Prison Network

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 13:30 -0400

U.S. officials interrogated people held at secret facilities where torture is reported.

This week, thanks to excellent reporting by The Associated Press, we learned of horrific conditions and brutal torture at 18 prisons around Yemen that are run by the United Arab Emirates, a U.S. ally, or by UAE-trained Yemeni officials. What’s more, the U.S. confirmed to the AP that U.S. personnel take part in interrogations in Yemen, submit questions to be asked, and receive videos and transcripts of interrogations.

This has set off alarm bells about possible U.S. complicity in or benefit from the torture of Yemenis in the secret prison network. That’s why today we filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the U.S. government to turn over all records relating to interrogations in Yemen

A senior Yemeni military official stated that the United States had sent authorities a list of “most wanted men” — including many who were later detained. In addition, according to multiple senior Yemeni officials, U.S. officials themselves conducted interrogations of detainees on ships off the coast of Yemen.

U.S. military officials reportedly investigated reports of torture and found that it did not happen in the presence of American personnel. The ACLU’s FOIA request covers the results of any investigations and interrogations, as well as any policies on the U.S. role in detention and interrogation at the sites.

The AP article also said there were reports of some interrogations on a ship at sea with or by people described as American “‘psychological experts.’” On behalf of three victims of the CIA’s former torture program, the ACLU has sued the two psychologists who devised and helped implement that program. The new FOIA request was filed with the CIA as well.

The FOIA request also asks for records relating to U.S. transfers of people for arrest, detention, or interrogation by Yemeni or Emirati personnel, and it also covers records related to U.S. training of Yemeni or Emirati personnel engaged in detention or interrogation.

Relatives and attorneys told The AP that some 2,000 men had been sent to the secret prison network, many never heard from again.

As the United States surely knows from its own shameful history of proxy detention and secret CIA prisons, international law bars not only torture, but also complicity or benefit from torture. If the U.S. knew or should have known its allies were engaged in torture, the last thing it should have done is turn a blind eye.

The ‘Magna Carta’ of Cyberspace Turns 20: An Interview With the ACLU Lawyer Who Helped Save the Internet

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 12:45 -0400

Twenty years ago, the Supreme Court struck down a broad online censorship law that almost gave us a very different internet. In the mid-1990s, as average American households were increasingly getting online, a “Great Internet Sex Panic” threatened to severely restrict the most significant communications medium of our time. The Communications Decency Act was introduced in Congress in 1995 to address the fabricated threat that pornography was taking over the web and imperiling our children. “The information superhighway should not become a red light district,” declared Sen. James Exon (D-Neb.), the bill’s sponsor. His solution was to criminalize the dissemination of “obscene or indecent” online content if it could be viewed by minors — essentially, applying the same standards to the internet as those imposed on broadcast television. The bill passed both chambers and was signed into law by Bill Clinton in February 1996. At the time, the ACLU didn’t even have a website. But recognizing the extraordinary potential of the internet as a forum for the exchange of ideas — one with "no parallel in the history of human communication” — the organization moved to challenge the law. The ACLU represented 20 diverse plaintiffs in the case, including advocacy groups like Planned Parenthood, who feared prosecution over their sexual education materials. We were also a named plaintiff in the case. (Read on to learn why.) The case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which unanimously struck down the anti-indecency portions of the law on June 26, 1997. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote: The record demonstrates that the growth of the Internet has been and continues to be phenomenal. As a matter of constitutional tradition, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we presume that governmental regulation of the content of speech is more likely to interfere with the free exchange of ideas than to encourage it. The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the decision, often referred to as the “Magna Carta” of the internet, I asked Chris Hansen, who led the ACLU’s lawsuit against the CDA, about what it was like to litigate Reno v. ACLU. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.        First things first, can you explain what constitutes indecency or obscenity, and who has the authority to decide if something is indecent or obscene? Has this definition changed over time? And is there a separate category of speech that may be indecent or obscene only for minors? Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from Laws prohibiting speech about sex date back to the early 1800s. “Obscenity” and “harmful to minors” are terms found in criminal laws that have evolved over time. “Indecency” is a term adopted by the FCC and allows an administrative fine against broadcasters. The CDA made it a crime to engage in speech online that was indecent. It is virtually impossible to identify speech that fits these categories. During the various internet censorship cases the ACLU brought, we asked the government to identify speech in each category, and they were largely unable to do so. For example, they said that an online photo on Playboy’s website of a topless woman was not harmful to minors, but a virtually identical photo on Penthouse’s website was. In addition, because the standards are subjective, material considered obscene decades ago, like Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer,” is no longer co[...]

It’s Time for Congressman Issa to Come Down From the Roof and Support the First Amendment

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 18:00 -0400

Rep. Darrell Issa has stood idly by as the city of Vista attacks his constituents’ right to protest outside of his office. On May 30, Rep. Darrell Issa’s San Diego County constituents saw a different side of the nine-term member of Congress. Angry at peaceful protesters outside his district office building in Vista, California, the congressman took to the roof to express his frustration. Looking down upon the protesters, he phoned a local newspaper reporter to explain he was on the roof because the protesters wouldn’t speak to him and blamed the reporter for being in cahoots with the protesters. On Twitter, however, Issa said he spent his morning talking to constituents and “then popped upstairs” to photograph them — from the roof. While Issa’s behavior was erratic, it isn’t the most concerning aspect to this story. No member of Congress likes to see protests outside his window, but he should vocally defend protesters’ First Amendment right to do so. But Issa’s silence has been deafening, even though the city of Vista is trying very hard to crack down on the protests. For the past few months, Ellen Montanari has organized weekly protests outside Issa’s office to voice concerns over Issa’s public policies, including Issa’s vote to repeal Obamacare. These days, people are eager to express their dissatisfaction with Issa’s performance and Montanari’s protests have given them a platform to do it. So every Tuesday, the protesters show up for an hour-long peaceful rally outside of Issa’s office, and the city of Vista has taken notice. Until recently, the protesters gathered on the public sidewalk next to his office building to exercise their First Amendment rights. But under the terms of the city’s most recent permit, which is issued in 30-day increments, they have been relegated to a dirt path on the opposite side of the road. Taking direct aim at Montanari, the permit also makes her financially responsible for the behavior of all the protesters who show up. The actions taken by the city are unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that public sidewalks are one of the places where our First Amendment rights are at their most robust. A government restriction on sidewalk protests can be justified only by the most compelling and fact-based need — and that reason can never include the government's desire that a protest be less visible or less critical. Our First Amendment freedoms ensure that anger and political disagreement don’t fester into violence. On June 1, the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties issued a letter to the city of Vista seeking the removal of the unconstitutional restrictions in the permit granted to Ellen Montanari. In our letter, we made it clear that the city cannot ban protest from a public sidewalk or make Ms. Montanari responsible for the conduct of others. We also explained to the city that it cannot bill protesters for any law enforcement response and reminded it cannot ban the use of bullhorns or microphones by protesters. The ACLU’s letter is now under review by the city attorney. Contempt for the First Amendment, however, isn’t confined to Vista. Since the election, 22 state legislatures have considered 31 anti-protest bills. Fourteen have been defeated, but 10 are pending and seven have passed — including laws in South Dakota and Tennessee against blocking streets during demonstrations. But the United States’ commitment to the First Amendment has been on the decline since before the election. In July 2016, Maina Kiai, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, undertook an official mission to the U.S. to assess our country’s commitment to freedom of assembly and protest. When he completed his trip, he observed that Americans “have good reason to be angry and frustrated at th[...]

In the Blink of an Eye, Police Officers Turned This Traffic Stop Into an Unnecessarily Violent Encounter

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 15:15 -0400

Disturbing police dash cam video from Minnesota shows an officer beating a motorist. In a heartbeat, Anthony Promvongsa’s sunny summer day in Worthington, Minnesota, turned from ordinary to a nightmare.  Shortly after encountering an agitated motorist driving in front of him on July 28, 2016, Anthony found himself confronted by the police. Within seconds of exiting his vehicle after pulling Anthony over, Agent Joe Joswiak of the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force opened the door of Anthony’s car, screaming, “Get the fuck out of the car, motherfucker!” Without hesitation, Agent Joswiak pulled, punched, and elbowed Anthony several times in the back while Anthony was still restrained by his seat belt. Agent Joswiak then yanked Anthony out of the car, threw him to the ground, and pressed his knee to the back of Anthony’s neck to pin Anthony facedown on the pavement while he and Sgt. Tim Gaul of the Worthington Police Department applied handcuffs. It turns out the agitated motorist Anthony encountered before being assaulted by Agent Joswiak was an off-duty police officer who called Joswiak to go after Anthony for tailgating him. The officer reports regarding the incident make no mention of any suspicion that Anthony was committing a drug offense. Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from The police have charged Anthony with various offenses, the most serious being fleeing in a motor vehicle and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon — his car. But let’s make this very clear. No matter what happened before the dashcam video began rolling, Anthony did not deserve to be abused by the police in this way. Agent Joswiak claims Anthony refused his order to leave his car, but the video contradicts this assertion.Instead it shows a textbook case of excessive force. This type of brutality by officers is not only unconstitutional — it’s terrifying for the individual being assaulted and for the community as a whole. People should not fear that they could be attacked by the police for no reason or while being detained for investigative purposes. Fear of police violence causes a decrease in people reporting crimes and erodes trust between communities and the police. Communities of color already have a tenuous relationship with police, and unacceptable behavior like this makes it harder for it ever to change.The Worthington Police Department, which employs Sgt. Gaul and appointed Agent Joswiak to the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force, needs to immediately investigate the incident, take all appropriate personnel actions, and ensure this never happens again.  The ACLU has called for an investigation into Agent Joswiak’s behavior. Agent Joswiak should be held accountable for his actions, up to and including termination and prosecution.Based on additional complaints that we are receiving, this does not appear to be an isolated incident. Rather there’s evidence that racial profiling and police brutality are systemic problems that span the Worthington Police Department, Nobles County Sheriff’s Office, and the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force as Worthington becomes a much more diverse city. The ACLU is talking with Anthony Promvongsa and his criminal counsel, and we are considering all legal options. No person in Worthington, Minnesota, should have to fear that the people who swear an oath to protect and serve the community are acting like criminals themselves. The video we have of Agent Joswiak and Sgt. Gaul seems to reveal at least two police officers who believe that they are above the law, not bound by it. [...]

If the Government Spied on You, How Would You Know?

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 14:00 -0400

We’re suing the Justice Department to disclose when the government tells people it electronically spied on them. How would you know if the federal government had been electronically spying on you? Short answer: You probably wouldn’t.Today, the ACLU sued the Justice Department to find out more about the circumstances under which the government thinks it can spy on Americans without telling them. This challenge seeks important information about a spying statute whose renewal is currently up for debate in Congress. The answer to the question above should be simple: When the government invades your privacy — whether by searching your home, your car, your emails, or anything else — it should give you notice of that intrusion unless it has a compelling reason for delay. You see it on television all the time: When the police search a house, they show a warrant or leave one behind at the scene. The individual whose privacy is at stake knows there was a search and what was taken. This isn’t just to amp up drama — it’s a constitutional requirement. If the government never told you that it had spied on you, you’d never be able to challenge the search or stop it from happening again. You’d be stuck essentially having to trust that if the government searched your emails or other belongings, it had good reason to and was acting lawfully. It’s worth noting, however, that the federal government has a long history of abusing its surveillance powers. And as the amount of digital data has expanded, the amount of surveillance has exploded, too. So has the secrecy and the absence of accountability surrounding electronic searches. These searches are conducted under various laws, but they have one thing in common: Individuals rarely find out that their private emails, internet chats, or documents stored in the cloud have been searched. (Some companies strive to inform their customers when the government demands private data, but very often the companies that receive these demands are gagged from saying anything.) One example of this notice problem involves Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — a controversial spying law scheduled to expire in December. Under Section 702, the government secretly obtains hundreds of millions of communications each year — including countless emails and phone calls involving Americans — all without a warrant. Yet the government is required to tell individuals that it has spied on them under Section 702 only in very limited circumstances: when the government intends to use evidence that was gathered with the help of such a search in a criminal trial or other legal proceeding. The vast majority of Americans surveilled under Section 702 will never be criminally prosecuted, so they will never know that the government has been secretly watching them. And without definitive proof that the government spied on them, individuals have an incredibly difficult time challenging the government’s spying in court. While those who are eventually charged and brought to trial are supposed to have a chance to challenge the government’s surveillance, only a handful of criminal defendants have ever received notice as the statute requires. It’s unlikely that the government isn’t using evidence obtained with the help of Section 702 in criminal investigations and prosecutions. For example, the FBI has said that it routinely combs through its vast Section 702 databases when conducting both national security and ordinary criminal investigations. The problem may be, instead, that the government is interpreting its duty to give notice far too narrowly — in order to avoid disclosing the spying in criminal cases. We’ve seen this kind of problem before. For five years up until 2013, the Justice Department unlawfully withheld notice of Section 7[...]