Archive for the ‘civil liberties’ tag
Ahh, our National Security State keeps chugging along, snatching us up in its tentacles…
Police across the country may be intercepting phone calls or text messages to find suspects using a technology tool known as Stingray. But they’re refusing to turn over details about its use or heavily censoring files when they do.
Police say Stingray, a suitcase-size device that pretends it’s a cell tower, is useful for catching criminals, but that’s about all they’ll say.
For example, they won’t disclose details about contracts with the device’s manufacturer, Harris Corp., insisting they are protecting both police tactics and commercial secrets. The secrecy – at times imposed by nondisclosure agreements signed by police – is pitting obligations under private contracts against government transparency laws.
Even in states with strong open records laws, including Florida and Arizona, little is known about police use of Stingray and any rules governing it.
A Stingray device tricks all cellphones in an area into electronically identifying themselves and transmitting data to police rather than the nearest phone company’s tower. Because documents about Stingrays are regularly censored, it’s not immediately clear what information the devices could capture, such as the contents of phone conversations and text messages, what they routinely do capture based on how they’re configured or how often they might be used.
(click here to continue reading POLICE KEEP QUIET ABOUT CELL-TRACKING TECHNOLOGY, BY JACK GILLUM, News from The Associated Press.)
Note that this works on everyone’s cellphones, regardless if you are a criminal suspect, or just a teenage girl texting your friends. Who needs warrants, right? The old United States that celebrated civil liberties as a constitution right has been superseded by 9-11 and the War on Terra.
ACLU Staff Attorney Nathan Freed Wessler writes:
It appears that at least one police department in Florida has failed to tell judges about its use of a cell phone tracking device because the department got the device on loan and promised the manufacturer to keep it all under wraps. But when police use invasive surveillance equipment to surreptitiously sweep up information about the locations and communications of large numbers of people, court oversight and public debate are essential. The devices, likely made by the Florida-based Harris Corporation, are called “stingrays,” and unfortunately this is not the first time the government has tried to hide their use.
So the ACLU and ACLU of Florida have teamed up to break through the veil of secrecy surrounding stingray use by law enforcement in the Sunshine State, last week filing a motion for public access to sealed records in state court, and submitting public records requests to nearly 30 police and sheriffs’ departments across Florida seeking information about their acquisition and use of stingrays.
As two judges noted during the oral argument, as of 2010 the Tallahassee Police Department had used stingrays a staggering 200 times without ever disclosing their use to a judge to get a warrant.
Potentially unconstitutional government surveillance on this scale should not remain hidden from the public just because a private corporation desires secrecy. And it certainly should not be concealed from judges. That’s why we have asked the Florida court that originally sealed the transcript to now make it available to the public. And that’s also why we have asked police departments throughout Florida to tell us whether they use stingrays, what rules they have in place to protect innocent third parties from unjustified invasions of privacy, and whether they obtain warrants from judges before deploying the devices.
Although secret stingray use has increasingly been exposed by the press (and by the ACLU), public details are still scant. Our new work in Florida is part of national efforts to understand how law enforcement is using these devices, and whether reforms are needed to protect our privacy from law enforcement overreach.
(click here to continue reading Police Hide Use of Cell Phone Tracker From Courts Because Manufacturer Asked | American Civil Liberties Union.)
Katha Pollitt notes how insincere Susan G. Komen For the Cure of Anti-Choice Women Foundation’s apology is. In other words, their apology is mealy-mouthed double talk, carefully crafted by their new PR firm, Oglivy, to try to avert some attention, but nothing really changed.
The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation must have been totally unprepared for the firestorm provoked by its announcement that it was severing its long relationship with Planned Parenthood, which for at least five years had been receiving grants to provide low-income women with breast exams and mammogram referrals. Komen showed itself to be both dishonest and ridiculous: there was its initial long silence over the decision, followed by a flurry of flimsy and inconsistent explanations—first it was that Planned Parenthood was being investigated by Representative Cliff Stearns; then it was a change in criteria for funding. And what PR genius advised it to childishly delete negative comments on its Facebook page? Result: Planned Parenthood was deluged with donations to keep its breast care services going, including a $250,000 matching grant from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; twenty-two senators signed a critical statement; there were resignations among staffers and open rebellion among volunteers. Andrea Mitchell’s interview with Nancy Brinker on MSNBC was as close to open distaste as that very polite journalist ever gets. Mitchell is herself a breast cancer survivor, and the expression on her face as she questioned Brinker was as if she were steeling herself to pick up a dead mouse.
The massive show of prochoice strength worked. Friday morning Komen released a statement apologizing for its decision and acknowledging the unfairness of cutting off PP because of the Stearns investigation: “We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.”
(Forget for the moment that Brinker denied the investigation had anything to do with the ban on PP). This is excellent news: Komen has in essence admitted that the Stearns probe is politically motivated, which must sting recently hired senior VP for public policy Karen Handel, who publicly favored defunding PP when she ran as a Palin-endorsed candidate in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary.
But the rest of the statement is less clear. It continues:
We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.
This has widely been taken to mean Komen has backed down completely, i.e., will return to making grants to PP. But look more closely: that is not what it says. Komen says only that it will fund “existing grants”—that means, it will fund grants it has already formally agreed to make. Well, it is legally required to do that, isn’t it? It can’t rescind a grant on the basis of a rule made after the grant was offered. The original banning always referred to the future, and as to that, Komen says only that PP can apply for funding, not that Komen will continue to make grants to it as it has for many years. Nothing prevents Komen from altering its criteria in ways designed to exclude PP—for example, as Brinker suggested to Mitchell, deciding against funding breast care outside of mammogram centers.
And what about the bit about allowing affiliates “to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities?” Does that mean affiliates will be free to refuse to support PP, setting the stage for state and local anti-choice takeover efforts? It’s all rather unclear, and much too soon to declare victory and go home. It could mean a lesson well learned—but it could be just spin. After all, Handel, whoever hired her and whoever approved the original ban on PP are still there.
(click here to continue reading Komen’s Ambiguous Apology | The Nation.)
By the way, the Tea-Bagger hack, Karen Handel, handpicked by Nancy Brinker, resigned today:
In her resignation letter, Handel insists that “the controversy related to Planned Parenthood has long been a concern to the organization.”
But as Bassett also reported, according to a source at Komen: Komen’s been dealing with the Planned Parenthood issue for years, and you know, some right-wing groups would organize a protest or send out a mailing every now and then, but it was on a low simmer […[ What Karen’s been doing for the past six months is ratcheting up the issue with leadership. Every time someone would even mention a protest, she would magnify it, pump it up, exaggerate it. She’s the one that kept driving this issue.
There really is no question that Karen Handel joined Komen last year with an agenda to defund Planned Parenthood. That was part of her platform during her failed, Sarah Palin-endorsed run for governor in Georgia; it was clearly part of her mission at Komen too. For the past week, Brinker has insisted that Handel had nothing to do with the decision, and that the decision had nothing to do with politics.
But it has become increasingly clear that Nancy Brinker is lying. And now Handel has confirmed it.
(click here to continue reading Daily Kos: Someone from Susan G. Komen for the Cure is lying. And her name is Nancy Brinker..)
karoli of Crooks and Liars adds:
I’m certain we will be hearing about how Handel’s resignation is the result of a witch hunt sparked from the left’s outcry. However, I note that there was nothing political about Komen until they chose to rebuke Planned Parenthood based upon an investigation opened for nothing other than political purposes. Mitt Romney’s leap onto the bandwagon is evidence of how such a decision played out, as is Komen’s decision to involve Ari Fleischer in the planning and execution of their strategy.
When you hear the screams and shrieks from the right wing, just remember that the Komen Foundation had been pressured for years to withdraw their support from Planned Parenthood, but until the arrival of Karen Handel, they hadn’t actually done it. At one point, Komen had actually issued a statement in support of their grant decisions to Planned Parenthood. Here is an excerpt:
The grants in question supplied breast health counseling, screening, and treatments to rural women, poor women, Native American women, many women of color who were underserved — if served at all — in areas where Planned Parenthood facilities were often the only infrastructure available. Though it meant losing corporate money from Curves, we were not about to turn our backs on these women. Somehow this position translated to the utterly false assertion that SGK funds abortions.
And somehow, when Karen Handel came on the scene, this all flipped around so that those women suddenly didn’t seem as important. Who politicized what, again?
(click here to continue reading Karen Handel Resigns From Komen Foundation | Crooks and Liars.)
I’ve been following the Chris Drew travesty fairly closely. Why should police be treated differently than other citizens? If Illinois law was on the books in California, for instance, would Scott Olsen be a household name? Or other Occupy incidents, like the various pepper spraying videos? If police are doing their job, they shouldn’t be worried about a spectator videoing their actions, and if they are doing something questionable, citizens should be able to collect evidence of police wrongdoing.
Anyway, there are rumblings that the law could be thrown out as vague, or unconstitutional.
When a Cook County jury in August acquitted a woman of violating Illinois’ strict eavesdropping law, an unassuming man with wire-rimmed glasses and wispy white hair sat in the gallery, quietly taking notes.
Chris Drew had good reason to keep an eye on the case — he’s facing trial on the same felony charge of eavesdropping on a public official, which carries up to 15 years in prison.
An artist whose ’60s upbringing instilled a deep respect for questioning authority, Drew, 61, is accused of making an illegal audio recording of Chicago police during a 2009 arrest for selling art on a downtown street without a permit.
Drew intended the incident to be a test of the city’s permit laws. But now his case has wound up at the forefront of a much bigger effort to challenge the constitutionality of Illinois’ eavesdropping law, which makes it illegal to audio-record police without their consent, even when they’re performing their public duties.
“He’s become the accidental eavesdropping activist,” Drew’s lawyer, Joshua Kutnick, joked in a recent interview.
Illinois is one of a handful of states in which it is illegal to record audio of public conversations without the permission of everyone involved and has one of the strictest eavesdropping laws in the country.
Opposition to Illinois’ law has been gaining traction for months as several cases have been tossed out of court.
In August, while Drew watched, Tiawanda Moore, 21, was acquitted of illegally recording two Chicago police internal affairs investigators whom she believed were trying to dissuade her from filing a sexual harassment complaint against a patrol officer. One juror later told the Tribune that he and his fellow panelists considered the case “a waste of time.”
The next month, a Crawford County judge ruled the law unconstitutional and dismissed eavesdropping charges against a man accused of recording police and court officials without their consent.
(click here to continue reading Illinois’ eavesdropping law under attack – chicagotribune.com.)
For instance, Ralph Braseth, a Loyola University journalism professor had a run-in with the Chicago Police while filming a documentary. The officers arrested him, and erased his footage.
Braseth has since filed a complaint with the Independent Police Review Authority, which forwarded the case to Chicago police internal affairs investigators.
While Braseth said he understands why some police officers don’t like to be recorded, he said Illinois’ eavesdropping law “should have been done away with a long time ago.”
“The citizens of Chicago employ the police officers, and they are acting as agents for our government,” Braseth said. “I don’t necessarily think it’s my job to police the police, but I think it’s a good idea for them to know that that can happen at any time. It’s one of the checks and balances that we have. It’s so fundamental.”
Meanwhile, the court has ruled it is ok for corporations to spy on you:
SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has ruled as constitutional a law giving telecommunications companies legal immunity for helping the government with its email and telephone eavesdropping program.
Thursday’s unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision regarding the 2008 law.
The appeal concerned a case that consolidated 33 different lawsuits filed against various telecom companies, including AT&T, Sprint Nextel, Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. on behalf of these companies’ customers.
The court noted comments made by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding the legal immunity’s role in helping the government gather intelligence.
“It emphasized that electronic intelligence gathering depends in great part on cooperation from private companies … and that if litigation were allowed to proceed against persons allegedly assisting in such activities, ‘the private sector might be unwilling to cooperate with lawful government requests in the future,’” Judge M. Margaret McKeown said.
The plaintiffs, represented by lawyers including the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, accuse the companies of violating the law and the privacy of its customers through collaboration with National Security Agency on intelligence gathering.
(click here to continue reading Court OKs immunity for telecoms in wiretap case – CBS News.)
The police and their insistence upon their own power being ultimate, no matter the legality of the situation, is troubling.
Naomi Wolf, author and political consultant was attending an event sponsored by the Huffington Post, and ended up getting arrested. She reports:
I went up [to the phalanx of NYPD cops] and asked them why [the OWC folks were moved away from the event]. They replied that they had been informed that the Huffington Post event had a permit that forbade them to use the sidewalk. I knew from my investigative reporting on NYC permits that this was impossible: a private entity cannot lease the public sidewalks; even film crews must allow pedestrian traffic. I asked the police for clarification – no response.
I went over to the sidewalk at issue and identified myself as a NYC citizen and a reporter, and asked to see the permit in question or to locate the source on the police or event side that claimed it forbade citizen access to a public sidewalk. Finally a tall man, who seemed to be with the event, confessed that while it did have a permit, the permit did allow for protest so long as we did not block pedestrian passage.
I thanked him, returned to the protesters, and said: “The permit allows us to walk on the other side of the street if we don’t block access. I am now going to walk on the public sidewalk and not block it. It is legal to do so. Please join me if you wish.” My partner and I then returned to the event-side sidewalk and began to walk peacefully arm in arm, while about 30 or 40 people walked with us in single file, not blocking access.
Then a phalanx of perhaps 40 white-shirted senior officers descended out of seemingly nowhere and, with a megaphone (which was supposedly illegal for citizens to use), one said: “You are unlawfully creating a disruption. You are ordered to disperse.” I approached him peacefully, slowly, gently and respectfully and said: “I am confused. I was told that the permit in question allows us to walk if we don’t block pedestrian access and as you see we are complying with the permit.”
He gave me a look of pure hate. “Are you going to back down?” he shouted. I stood, immobilized1, for a moment. “Are you getting out of my way?” I did not even make a conscious decision not to “fall back” – I simply couldn’t even will myself to do so, because I knew that he was not giving a lawful order and that if I stepped aside it would be not because of the law, which I was following, but as a capitulation to sheer force. In that moment’s hesitation, he said, “OK,” gestured, and my partner and I were surrounded by about 20 officers who pulled our hands behind our backs and cuffed us with plastic handcuffs.
(click here to continue reading Naomi Wolf: How I was arrested at Occupy Wall Street | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.)
and this bit is extremely troubling:
Another scary outcome I discovered is that, when the protesters marched to the first precinct, the whole of Erickson Street was cordoned off – “frozen” they were told, “by Homeland Security”. Obviously if DHS now has powers to simply take over a New York City street because of an arrest for peaceable conduct by a middle-aged writer in an evening gown, we have entered a stage of the closing of America, which is a serious departure from our days as a free republic in which municipalities are governed by police forces.
The police are now telling my supporters that the permit in question gave the event managers “control of the sidewalks”. I have asked to see the permit but still haven’t been provided with it – if such a category now exists, I have never heard of it; that, too, is a serious blow to an open civil society. What did I take away? Just that, unfortunately, my partner and I became exhibit A in a process that I have been warning Americans about since 2007: first they come for the “other” – the “terrorist”, the brown person, the Muslim, the outsider; then they come for you – while you are standing on a sidewalk in evening dress, obeying the law.
- sic, UK spelling [↩]
Rasputin with Bachman Eyes
The Police Chief of Long Beach has confirmed that his department’s policy is to detain photographers who do nothing more than take pictures in public places, and that he neither has, nor plans to implement, any guidelines for these detentions. He classes photography with other “suspicious activity” such as “attempts to acquire illegal or illicit biological agent (anthrax, ricin, Eboli, smallpox, etc.)” and “In possession, or utilizes, explosives (for illegal purposes).”
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
A central air-conditioning system made by Advantix Systems, formerly an Israeli company but now based in Miami, removes moisture from air and cools it with a mixture that is 60 percent water and 40 percent salt. Humid air is pumped past the salty mixture and water from the air tends to flow into the salt. If the salt is chilled, the air will be cooled, too.
Condemnation was swift and widespread. “There was no demonstrated risk to the public safety at all,” said Kevin Bankston, senior staff lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “And even if there had been, the action was unacceptable from a First Amendment point of view.” He said, “Having offered the option of cellphone service, they cannot withdraw it for the specific purpose of cutting off free speech,” he said.
Our erosion of civil liberties continues apace, the police increasingly don’t even bother to get warrants before they put you in their surveillance net. For instance, in the case of suspect Antoine Jones, the police installed a GPS tracking device on his (or his wife’s) Jeep.
Jordan Smith reports on this troubling case:
When are electronic or other forms of surveillance of an individual considered a search under the Fourth Amendment — thus requiring a valid warrant to conduct such surveillance in a manner that protects the individual from “unlawful search and seizure”?
How the U.S. Supreme Court answers that question, in a case on its docket for the term starting in October, will have far-reaching implications for the power of government and for the privacy of individuals, according to lawyers and privacy rights advocates.
If the Court holds that warrants are not required for this type of surveillance, it could mean “the technological death of the Fourth Amendment,” warns Arkansas-based attorney John Wesley Hall, a leading Fourth Amendment expert…
The officers obtained a judicial warrant providing for a 10-day tracking period inside the District of Columbia. However, they actually installed the device after the 10-day window had expired — the reasons have not been brought out in court — and they did so while the Jeep was parked in a public lot in Maryland. The GPS data provided a 24/7 record of all of Jones’ movements in the Jeep over the next month — including, at times, the movements of his wife and family.
(click here to continue reading Big Brother is tracking you: GPS and the 4th Amendment – Obama’s Supreme Court Nominees | Supreme Court Justices – Salon.com.)
I’d be very surprised if the Roberts Court rules against the police, shocked in fact. Even the fact that some gun rights organizations have filed briefs decrying this destruction of the Fourth Amendment will probably not sway the Court, if history is any guide.
As Leckar1 told the Crime Report, a beeper is a “simple sense-augmenting device,” while a GPS tracking device, designed by the government for military use and only made available since 2000 for civilian applications, is “not sense augmenting; it’s sense supplanting.”
And that is one of the main reasons that in order to pass the Fourth Amendment’s legal standard a warrant is needed to conduct GPS surveillance, Leckar argues.
The “D.C. Circuit was correct to hold that pattern information is dramatically more intrusive than mere information about an individual’s discrete journeys,” his brief argued. “Indeed, the distinction between discrete bits of information and patterns of conduct is well-accepted.”
To privacy and Fourth Amendment advocates, the distinction is crucial.
In a brief supporting Jones before the D.C. Circuit, the Electronic Freedom Foundation and the ACLU, and which they are expected to revive before the Supremes, argued that GPS technology now gives police extraordinary new powers to remotely track individuals over long periods in both public and private realms.
“Without a warrant requirement, an individual’s every movement could be subject to remote monitoring, and permanent recording, at the sole discretion of any police officer,” the brief said.
Gun Owners of America, Inc., Gun Owners Foundation, and several other conservative groups have already filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court urging it to restore “the Fourth Amendment to its original text and purpose.”
- veteran attorney Stephen Leckar, who represents Jones [↩]
Police should be held to the same standards as citizens: and not allowed to hide behind this archaic, pre-digital law. I fail to see why the police are afraid of being recorded, unless they plan on bending the law in some way and don’t want to be caught. Other states don’t have this same law, and seem to be doing just fine…
The Illinois Eavesdropping Act has been on the books for years. It makes it a criminal offense to audio-record either private or public conversations without the consent of all parties, Mr. Schwartz said. Audio-recording a civilian without consent is a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to three years in prison for a first-time offense. A second offense is a Class 3 felony with a possible prison term of five years.
Although law-enforcement officials can legally record civilians in private or public, audio-recording a law-enforcement officer, state’s attorney, assistant state’s attorney, attorney general, assistant attorney general or judge in the performance of his or her duties is a Class 1 felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
The A.C.L.U. filed its lawsuit after several people throughout Illinois were charged in recent years with eavesdropping for making audio recordings of public conversations with the police. The A.C.L.U. argued that the act violates the First Amendment and hinders citizens from monitoring the public behavior of police officers and other officials.
On Jan. 10, a federal judge in Chicago dismissed the suit for the second time. Mr. Schwartz said the A.C.L.U. would appeal. Andrew Conklin, a spokesman for Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state’s attorney, said, “We did feel the A.C.L.U.’s claims were baseless and we’re glad the court agreed with us.” Beyond that statement, Mr. Conklin said, “we have no comment because we have these two cases pending.”
(click to continue reading Eavesdropping Laws Mean That Turning On an Audio Recorder Could Send You to Prison – NYTimes.com.)
Seems like a simple question, but law enforcement doesn’t want to accept that electronic communications have replaced handwritten documents. There shouldn’t be a distinction based solely on the medium the communication uses. If I have a safe in my house with personal documents,1 the police need a warrant to open it. Why should my email folder be any different?
The question boils down to this: Should personal information that people store online, from e-mail messages to photos to location updates, be treated the same as telephone calls or paper documents stored in a person’s home?
Right now, they often aren’t, in part because the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which governs surveillance of what people do online, was written in 1986 — well before Twitter direct messages, Facebook status updates or Foursquare check-ins.
And Web users generally do not understand when and how law enforcement can access their information, said Ryan Calo, director of the consumer privacy project at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet & Society.
(click to continue reading Should E-Mail and Letters Have Equal Legal Protection? – NYTimes.com.)
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of the US currently has a reactionary majority, and will predictably side with the police over civil liberties, every time. There’s always hope…
So far, updates to the law have been piecemeal. For example, last month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, considering a fraud case, ruled that law enforcement cannot access e-mail messages stored online without a warrant because they are protected by the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches.
- which I actually don’t, but I want one to store my passport and some similar papers in case of fire or other calamity [↩]
More on why Russ Feingold losing his seat to a Tea Party Know Nothing is a travesty…
Civil liberties advocates lost a Senate stalwart Tuesday night when Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) was defeated by Ron Johnson, a little-known plastics manufacturer whose shibboleths against health care reform and government spending tapped into populist anger.
For years, Feingold was one of the few — and sometimes the only — voice in the Senate skeptical of the government’s increasing demands for domestic surveillance power and control of the internet. He was one of 16 Senators who voted against the Communications Decency Act of 1996, an internet censorship bill later struck down by the Supreme Court, was the only Senator in 2001 to vote against the USA Patriot Act, and he introduced a measure to censure President Bush for his illegal warrantless wiretapping program.
“Senator Feingold was a true champion of civil liberties,” said Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, based in Washington, D.C. “He spoke out against the Patriot Act and the dramatic growth of government surveillance programs when many other Senators stood by silently. His voice and his commitment to the Constitutional rights of all Americans will be missed.”
In 1997, before many Americans were online, Feingold set out to repeal the CDA, which criminalized sending “indecent materials” to minors on the net, even before the Supreme Court heard the case.
“One can be a speaker, a publisher and a listener using the internet,” Feingold said, years before the term Web 2.0 became trendy. “The threat of the Communications Decency Act is its undeniable ability to stifle this free-flowing speech on the Net.”
Feingold was a maverick in his own party, strongly opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and voting against the TARP bank bailouts. Unlike many Democrats, however, he embraced his vote on health care reform, saying there was nothing wrong with helping to get the uninsured health care.
(click to continue reading Civil Liberties Watchdog Feingold Loses Senate Seat | Threat Level | Wired.com.)
Damn, I love the ACLU. Contribute to them if you can spare a few pennies. I should make a t-shirt with this phrase: The federal government acknowledges that there are no federal laws or regulations that prohibit photography outside federal buildings. Photography is not a crime!
In settling a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the federal government today recognized the public’s right to take photographs and record videos in public spaces outside federal courthouses throughout the nation.
The settlement comes after the NYCLU sued the federal government in April on behalf of a Libertarian activist who was unlawfully arrested by federal officers after exercising his First Amendment right to record digital video outside of a federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan.
“This settlement secures the public’s First Amendment right to use cameras in public spaces without being harassed,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “While we understand the need for heightened security near federal buildings, any rule that results in the arrest of people for exercising their First Amendment rights is clearly unconstitutional. We’re pleased the federal government finally recognizes this fact.”
Plaintiff Antonio Musumeci was arrested on Nov. 9, 2009 after using a hand-held camera to record a protestor in a public plaza outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Courthouse in Manhattan.
During the arrest, federal officers forced Musumeci to the pavement and confiscated video from his camera. Musumeci, a software developer for an investment bank, was detained for about 20 minutes and issued a ticket for violating a federal regulation. That charge was later dismissed.
On two subsequent occasions, federal officers threatened Musumeci with arrest after trying to record protests at the courthouse.
“The courthouse plaza is public property paid for by taxpayers, and the public should not be prohibited from using video cameras there. Now people now can freely express their First Amendment right there without being harassed and arrested by federal officers,” said Musumeci, a resident of Edgewater, N.J.
In the settlement approved today by a federal judge in Manhattan, the federal government acknowledges that there are no federal laws or regulations that prohibit photography outside federal courthouses. It agreed to provide federal officers written instructions emphasizing the public’s right to photograph and record outside federal courthouses. The settlement has even broader implications, though.
“Not only will this settlement end harassment of photographers outside federal courthouses, it will free people to photograph and film outside of all federal buildings,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, lead counsel in the case. “The regulation at issue in this case applies to all federal buildings, not only courthouses, so this settlement should extend to photography near all federal buildings nationwide.
Trust no-one. Especially when the FBI has your organization on its radar. On Sunday, the Memphis newspaper The Commercial Appeal published an explosive exposé on renowned Civil RIghts photojournalist, Ernest C. Withers.
At the top of the stairs he saw the blood, a large pool of it, splashed across the balcony like a grisly, abstract painting. Instinctively, Ernest Withers raised his camera. This wasn’t just a murder. This was history.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood here a few hours earlier chatting with aides when a sniper squeezed off a shot from a hunting rifle.
Now, as night set over Memphis, Withers was on the story.
Slipping past a police barricade, the enterprising Beale Street newsman made his way to room 306 at the Lorraine Motel — King’s room — and walked in. Ralph Abernathy and the others hardly blinked. After all, this was Ernest C. Withers. He’d marched with King, and sat in on some of the movement’s sensitive strategy meetings.
A veteran freelancer for America’s black press, Withers was known as “the original civil rights photographer,” an insider who’d covered it all, from the Emmett Till murder that jump-started the movement in 1955 to the Little Rock school crisis, the integration of Ole Miss and, now, the 1968 sanitation strike that brought King to Memphis and his death.
(click to continue reading Photographer Ernest Withers doubled as FBI informant to spy on civil rights movement » The Commercial Appeal.)
According to the article, Withers was instrumental in the FBI’s questionable war1 against every organization that challenged the status quo: the Black Panthers, religious groups, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, you name it. The program2 was called COINTELPRO, and it was worse, and more pervasive than you think. The links in the quoted section below go to scans of primary documents, hosted at the moment at The Commercial Appeal, so you can read them in their malicious banality yourself.
Much of his undercover work helped the FBI break up the Invaders, a Black Panther-styled militant group that became popular in disaffected black Memphis in the late 1960s and was feared by city leaders.
Yet, Withers focused on mainstream Memphians as well.
Personal and professional details of Church of God in Christ Bishop G.E. Patterson (then a pastor with a popular radio show), real estate agent O.W. Pickett, politician O. Z. Evers and others plumped FBI files as the bureau ran a secret war on militancy.
When community leader Jerry Fanion took cigarettes to jailed Invaders, agents took note. Agents wrote reports when Catholic Father Charles Mahoney befriended an Invader, when car dealer John T. Fisher offered jobs to militants, when Rev. James Lawson planned a trip to Czechoslovakia and when a schoolteacher loaned his car to a suspected radical.
Each report has a common thread — Withers.
As a so-called racial informant — one who monitored race-related politics and “hate” organizations — Withers fed agents a steady flow of information.
Records indicate he snapped and handed over photos of St. Patrick Catholic Church priests who supported the city’s striking sanitation workers; he monitored political candidates, jotted down auto tag numbers for agents, and once turned over a picture of an employee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said to be “one who will give aid and comfort to the black power groups.” In an interview this year, that worker said she came within a hearing of losing her job.
On Sunday, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis published the results of a two-year investigation that showed [Ernest C.] Withers, who died in 2007 at age 85, had collaborated closely with two F.B.I. agents in the 1960s to keep tabs on the civil rights movement. It was an astonishing revelation about a former police officer nicknamed the Original Civil Rights Photographer, whose previous claim to fame had been the trust he engendered among high-ranking civil rights leaders, including Dr. King.
“It is an amazing betrayal,” said Athan Theoharis, a historian at Marquette University who has written books about the F.B.I. “It really speaks to the degree that the F.B.I. was able to engage individuals within the civil rights movement. This man was so well trusted.”
From at least 1968 to 1970, Mr. Withers, who was black, provided photographs, biographical information and scheduling details to two F.B.I. agents in the bureau’s Memphis domestic surveillance program, Howell Lowe and William H. Lawrence, according to numerous reports summarizing their meetings. The reports were obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act and posted on its Web site.
A clerical error appears to have allowed for Mr. Withers’s identity to be divulged: In most cases in the reports, references to Mr. Withers and his informer number, ME 338-R, have been blacked out. But in several locations, the F.B.I. appears to have forgotten to hide them.
(click to continue reading Civil Rights Photographer Unmasked as Informer – NYTimes.com.)
Presumedly, a diligent researcher researcher could now go through redacted FBI documents, and find everywhere else that Withers code name was used
A clerical error appears to have allowed for Mr. Withers’s identity to be divulged: In most cases in the reports, references to Mr. Withers and his informer number, ME 338-R, have been blacked out. But in several locations, the F.B.I. appears to have forgotten to hide them.
Wonder if there the FBI is conducting an updated version of COINTELPRO to investigate/infiltrate the Tea Party zealots? Probably not, for most of the history of the FBI, they have only been concerned with liberal dissent. Conservatives get a pass, even if they blow up buildings or kill innocents. A liberal group providing cigarettes to an incarcerated protester? That’s grounds for expanding the file.
Kudos, as this policy is contrary to the Bill of Rights and years of court rulings. You should throw a few dollars in the ACLU coffers if you can.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Layers (NACDL) today filed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) policy permitting border agents to search, copy and detain travelers’ electronic devices at the border without reasonable suspicion. DHS asserts the right to look though the contents of a traveler’s electronic devices – including laptops, cameras and cell phones – and to keep the devices or copy the contents in order to continue searching them once the traveler has been allowed to enter the U.S., regardless of whether the traveler is suspected of any wrongdoing.
“These days, almost everybody carries a cell phone or laptop when traveling, and almost everyone stores information they wouldn’t want to share with government officials – from financial records to love letters to family photos,” said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “Innocent Americans should not be made to feel like the personal information they store on their laptops and cell phones is vulnerable to searches by government officials any time they travel out of the country.”
Today’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), whose members include television and still photographers, editors, students and representatives of the photojournalism industry; NACDL, which is a plaintiff as well as counsel on the case; and Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old dual French-American citizen who had his laptop searched and confiscated at the Canadian border.
Abidor was travelling from Montreal to New York on an Amtrak train in May when he had his laptop searched and confiscated by Custom and Border Patrol officers. Abidor, an Islamic Studies Ph.D. student, was questioned, handcuffed, taken off the train and kept in a holding cell for several hours before being released without charge. When his laptop was returned 11 days later, there was evidence that many of his personal files, including research, photos and chats with his girlfriend, had been searched.
“As an American, I’ve always been taught that the Constitution protects me against unreasonable searches and seizures. But having my laptop searched and then confiscated for no reason at all made me question how much privacy we actually have,” said Abidor. “This has had an extreme chilling effect on my work, studies and private life – now I will have to go to untenable lengths to assure that my academic sources remain confidential and my personal dignity is maintained when I travel.”
(click to continue reading Groups Sue Over Suspicionless Laptop Search Policy At The Border | American Civil Liberties Union.)
I am lucky that I was a teen and finished college before the digital age. As far as I know, there are no permanent records of my exploits anywhere on the web, accessible by casual web searchers, or overzealous customs officials. Like most 19 year olds, I did some crazy stuff, participated in some questionable behavior with my peers, but never was actually arrested by law enforcement. Thankfully. Because otherwise, I’d worry…
Four years ago, Stacy Snyder, then a 25-year-old teacher in training at Conestoga Valley High School in Lancaster, Pa., posted a photo on her MySpace page that showed her at a party wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup, with the caption “Drunken Pirate.” After discovering the page, her supervisor at the high school told her the photo was “unprofessional,” and the dean of Millersville University School of Education, where Snyder was enrolled, said she was promoting drinking in virtual view of her under-age students. As a result, days before Snyder’s scheduled graduation, the university denied her a teaching degree. Snyder sued, arguing that the university had violated her First Amendment rights by penalizing her for her (perfectly legal) after-hours behavior. But in 2008, a federal district judge rejected the claim, saying that because Snyder was a public employee whose photo didn’t relate to matters of public concern, her “Drunken Pirate” post was not protected speech.
When historians of the future look back on the perils of the early digital age, Stacy Snyder may well be an icon. The problem she faced is only one example of a challenge that, in big and small ways, is confronting millions of people around the globe: how best to live our lives in a world where the Internet records everything and forgets nothing — where every online photo, status update, Twitter post and blog entry by and about us can be stored forever. With Web sites like LOL Facebook Moments, which collects and shares embarrassing personal revelations from Facebook users, ill-advised photos and online chatter are coming back to haunt people months or years after the fact. Examples are proliferating daily: there was the 16-year-old British girl who was fired from her office job for complaining on Facebook, “I’m so totally bored!!”; there was the 66-year-old Canadian psychotherapist who tried to enter the United States but was turned away at the border — and barred permanently from visiting the country — after a border guard’s Internet search found that the therapist had written an article in a philosophy journal describing his experiments 30 years ago with L.S.D.
According to a recent survey by Microsoft, 75 percent of U.S. recruiters and human-resource professionals report that their companies require them to do online research about candidates, and many use a range of sites when scrutinizing applicants — including search engines, social-networking sites, photo- and video-sharing sites, personal Web sites and blogs, Twitter and online-gaming sites. Seventy percent of U.S. recruiters report that they have rejected candidates because of information found online, like photos and discussion-board conversations and membership in controversial groups.
(click to continue reading The Web Means the End of Forgetting – NYTimes.com.)
Land of the free, right.
Oh, and since Jeffrey Rosen didn’t specify the 66 year old Canadian psychologist who took LSD in 1967, his name is Andrew Feldmar, and I blogged about this travesty in 2007. He really was barred from entry to the US in May, 2007, because he wrote an article about his drug use – in 1967!
Can the CIA and its bosses get away with these travesties conducted in our name? Or will Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney finally be given the show trial in The Hague they deserve?
Bush-era CIA medical personnel conducted experiments on detainees in CIA custody to provide legal cover for torture as well as to justify and shape future torture techniques, a just-released report from the Physicians for Human Rights alleges.
“The CIA appears to have broken all accepted legal and ethical standards put in place since the Second World War to protect prisoners from being the subjects of experimentation,” said Frank Donaghue, the CEO of PHR, a nonprofit organization of health professionals.
According to PHR’s investigation, the CIA conducted experiments monitoring sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours and experimented with waterboarding by adding saline to water to avoid killing detainees or rendering them comatose.
“‘Waterboarding 2.0′ was the product of the CIA’s developing and field-testing an intentionally harmful practice, using systematic medical monitoring,” the report claims.
Its author, Nathanial A. Raymond, said that although such experimentation appears to have been essential for the CIA’s legal cover for torture, Justice Department lawyers seem never to have assessed the human subject research.
(click to continue reading PHR report: CIA personnel engaged in human experimentation – War Room – Salon.com.)
- If you forgot who Josef Mengele was, here’s the opening paragraph of his Wikipedia entry:
Josef Mengele (16 March 1911 – 7 February 1979), also known as the Angel of Death, was a German SS officer and a physician in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. He earned doctorates in anthropology from Munich University and in medicine from Frankfurt University. He initially gained notoriety for being one of the SS physicians who supervised the selection of arriving transports of prisoners, determining who was to be killed and who was to become a forced laborer, but is far more infamous for performing grisly human experiments on camp inmates, for which Mengele was called the “Angel of Death”.
In 1940, he was placed in the reserve medical corps, following which he served with the 5th SS Panzergrenadier Division Wiking in the Eastern Front. In 1942, he was wounded at the Russian front and was pronounced medically unfit for combat, and was then promoted to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) for saving the lives of two German soldiers. He survived the war, and after a period living incognito in Germany he fled to South America, where he evaded capture for the rest of his life despite being hunted as a Nazi war criminal.
So not someone for an American to emulate [↩]
Insanely ridiculous. How is this even remotely acceptable behavior? Police should avoid doing illegal acts if they are so worried about being videotaped.
In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.
Even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists.
The legal justification for arresting the “shooter” rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where “no expectation of privacy exists” (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.
Massachusetts attorney June Jensen represented Simon Glik who was arrested for such a recording. She explained, “[T]he statute has been misconstrued by Boston police. You could go to the Boston Common and snap pictures and record if you want.” Legal scholar and professor Jonathan Turley agrees, “The police are basing this claim on a ridiculous reading of the two-party consent surveillance law – requiring all parties to consent to being taped. I have written in the area of surveillance law and can say that this is utter nonsense.”
The courts, however, disagree. A few weeks ago, an Illinois judge rejected a motion to dismiss an eavesdropping charge against Christopher Drew, who recorded his own arrest for selling one-dollar artwork on the streets of Chicago. Although the misdemeanor charges of not having a peddler’s license and peddling in a prohibited area were dropped, Drew is being prosecuted for illegal recording, a Class I felony punishable by 4 to 15 years in prison.
(click to continue reading Are Cameras the New Guns?.)
Police are public officials, paid with our tax dollars. Why should they be exempted from established principles? Horrible decision by lawmakers in Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland, and everywhere else considering similar draconian laws.