From The ACLU. A reminder of who is watching.
From The ACLU. A reminder of who is watching.
— RT USA
December 02, 2013
A report by the New York Times’ Susan Stellin published over the weekend attempted to shine much-deserved light on an otherwise largely unexposed program of federal watch lists, but details about these directories — including the names of individuals on them and what they did to get there — remain as elusive as ever.
More than 12 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, federal agencies continue to keep lists on hand containing names of individuals of interest: people who often end up un-cleared to enter or exit the US due to an array of activity that could be considered suspicious or terrorist-related to government officials.
In 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union claimed that an Inspector General of the Department of Justice report found at least 700,000 individual names on the database maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sub-office tasked with overseeing the “single database of identifying information about those known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activity.” Five years later, that number of suspicious persons is reportedly close to what it was at the time. Half-a-decade down the road, however, Americans and foreign nationals who end up on the government’s radar are offered little chance to find out how they ended there, or even file an appeal.
According to some, that’s just the start of what’s wrong with these lists.
“If you’ve done the paperwork correctly, then you can effectively enter someone onto the watch list,” SUNY Buffalo Law School associate professor Anya Bernstein told Stellin for this weekend’s report. What’s more, though, according to Bernstein, is that “There’s no indication that agencies undertake any kind of regular retrospective review to assess how good they are at predicting the conduct they’re targeting,” suggesting that anyone can be targeted and added to such a list with little oversight to protect them.
“When you have a huge list of people who are likely to commit terrorist acts, it’s easy to think that terrorism is a really big problem and we should be devoting a lot of resources to fighting it,” Bernstein added. With almost no transparency and outrages aplenty, though, she argues that the government’s watch lists are largely flawed and can erroneously ruin an innocent person’s life.
Such is the case with Rahinah Ibrahim, 48-year-old a former Standard University doctoral student who was expected to be in federal court in San Francisco, California Monday morning for the latest hearing in a case that stems from an incident in 2005 that ended with her learning she had been added to a terrorist watch list. Ibrahim was attempting to board a Hawaii-bound plane from San Francisco International Airport in traditional Muslim garb when she was taken into custody and told she had landed herself on a terrorist watch list. Nearly a decade later Ibrahim continues to disavow any connections with terrorism, but the issues surrounding the watch list program has made it seemingly impossible to find out what she did, let alone have her name removed from the list.
“We’ve tried to get discovery into whether our client has been surveilled and have been shut down on that,” Elizabeth Pipkin, a lawyer representing Ms. Ibrahim, added to the Times. “They won’t answer that question for us.”
“She doesn’t want this to happen to other people — to be wrongfully included on these lists that haunt them for years and years,” Pipkin said recently to Northern California’s Mercury News.
“No one knows how the targets get on the lists,” she said. “The government has never contested this case on the merits. We don’t think they have a defense.”
But with Monday’s hearing coming nearly a decade after Ibrahim first found herself in trouble, the likelihood of any reform coming soon to the watch list system seems slim-to-none. ACLU lawyer Hina Shamsi even told the Times that the system keeping the watch lists in tact seems to be more flawed than the one guarding over terrorist suspects held at America’s military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“People who are accused of being enemy combatants at Guantánamo have the ability to challenge their detention, however imperfect that now is,” Shamsi told Stellin. “It makes no sense that people who have not actually been accused of any wrongdoing can’t challenge.”
A Terrorist Screening Center official reached for comment by the Times claimed that fewer than one percent of those listed on such rosters are US citizens or legal permanent residents, but as Stellin points out, “there is no way to confirm that number.”
If this doesn’t wake you up, I don’t know what will.
Visit our website: http://StormCloudsGathering.com
Music is original sound track created by me.
Composite animations are original.
Links to get you started on your research:
NDAA 2013 passes with indefinite detention still intact
Obama extends Patriot Act: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05…
Widespread abuse of patriot act: http://www.aclu.org/national-security…
Obama tries to hide information regarding rape and sexual abuse in Abu Ghraib: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/world…
Obama’s kill list: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/wor…
FBI finalizing its NGI Biometrics Database:
Biometrics at departures: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/po…
People placed on no-fly list for political reasons:
Drones used to hunt Dorner: http://now.msn.com/christopher-dorner…
Leaked Document: Government setting up military detention centers for Activists: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfkZ1y…
FBI Murdered Todashev execution style:
Senator Coburn points out the DHS “zombie” training exercise as wasteful: http://www.coburn.senate.gov/public/i…
But if you actually watch it it’s much more disturbing: http://stormcloudsgathering.com/dhs-t…
Yes this really happened (details about the exercise):
Police admit Dorner fire was set on purpose: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow…
DHS buying billions of bullets (links to some of the purchase orders):
450 million rounds purchased by DHS earlier this year:
Purchase order for additional 750 million rounds of ammunition
DHS buys even more bullets:
Iris scanning from a distance:
Biometrics checks at border… Already in place for immigrants entering, now to be added for exits.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/vician|
The following originally appeared on Democracy Now!:
In a major new report, the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations details a global crackdown on peaceful protests through excessive police force and the criminalization of dissent. The report, “Take Back the Streets: Repression and Criminalization of Protest Around the World,” warns of a growing tendency to perceive individuals exercising a fundamental democratic right — the right to protest — as a threat requiring a forceful government response. The case studies detailed in this report show how governments have reacted to peaceful protests in the United States, Israel, Canada, Argentina, Egypt, Hungary, Kenya, South Africa and Britain. The report’s name comes from a police report filed in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets of Toronto to nonviolently protest the G-20 summit. A senior Toronto police commander responded to the protests by issuing an order to “take back the streets.” Within a span of 36 hours, more than 1,000 people — peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights monitors and downtown residents — were arrested and placed in detention. We are joined by three guests: the report’s co-editor, Abby Deshman, a lawyer and program director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association; Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union; and Hossam Bahgat, an Egyptian human rights activist and the founder and executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a major new report detailing the global crackdown on peaceful protests, both through excessive police force and the criminalization of dissent. The report is called “Take Back the Streets: Repression and Criminalization of Protest Around the World.” It was put out by the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations. The name of the report, “Take Back the Streets,” comes from a police report filed in June 2010, when hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets of Toronto to nonviolently protest the G-20 summit. A senior Toronto police commander responded to the protests by issuing an order to, quote, “take back the streets.” Within a span of 36 hours, over a thousand people—peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights monitors and downtown residents—were arrested and placed in detention.
AMY GOODMAN: According to the report, what happened in Canada is emblematic of government conduct in the face of protest around the world: the tendency to perceive individuals exercising a fundamental democratic right—the right to protest—as a threat requiring a forceful government response. The case studies detailed in this report show how governments have reacted to peaceful protests in the United States, in Israel, Canada, Argentina, Egypt, Hungary, Kenya, South Africa and Britain.
For more, we’re joined by co-editor of the report, Abby Deshman, a lawyer and program director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. We’re also joined by Anthony Romero. He is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, author of the book In Defense of Our America: The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror. And still with us, Hossam Bahgat—he is the founder and executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Abby, talk about the report.
ABBY DESHMAN: Sure. This is a collaboration between multiple domestic human rights and civil liberties organizations, that we’ve really come together to group our domestic work, group our national work and identify trends in how we feel the governments are responding to democratic dissent and protest in the streets. And, you know, gathering together this number of practitioners to really provide practitioners’ notes shows that there are very disturbing trends. People are taking to the streets across the world, and governments are responding with excessive use of force, criminalization and repression.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, when you say “disturbing trends,” governments have never looked kindly on dissent within their borders or by their own citizens. What do you see as new about what is occurring now? Because I remember years back when we at Democracy Now! covered the Seattle World Trade Organization protests live, there clearly were some new tactics by both the nonviolent protesters as well as the government response.
ABBY DESHMAN: Well, partly what’s new—I mean, at least for me; I’m young in this game—but partly what’s new is massive uprising in the streets. I think we are seeing, in the past three, five years, record numbers of people, in recent memory, taking to the streets. And we are seeing new police tactics—the numbers of arrests, the massive, hundreds of people rounded up at a time. There are new policing weapons: long-range acoustic devices, sonic cannon, excessive amounts of tear gas being used in Egypt. These are trends that are currently surfacing in multiple countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Romero, talk about the United States.
ANTHONY ROMERO: Well, it’s important to put the United States in the global context. And normally when we think about protest and freedom of speech, we think that’s been a right that’s been well established and well respected. And yet, you point out the difficulties we’ve seen with theWTO protesters, the protesters with the Occupy movement and, in particular, this case study that we highlight in Puerto Rico, a place where most Americans don’t think of Puerto Rico as part of the United States, but it is. The Constitution applies. Over four—close to four million American citizens live there. And yet, you have the second-largest police department in the nation, only second to New York City Police Department, and the massive levels of repression and shutdown of—of arrests, of tear-gassing, of beating of students, of labor leaders, the level of impunity that lasted for years, until the ACLU filed a report, lobbied our Justice Department, filed a lawsuit, and then the Justice Department stepped in, only recently, to try to put the Puerto Rico Police Department under better control of rule of law.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole tactic of picking people up en masse and then holding them, supposedly while protests continue, basically pulling them out without any real charges just to get them off the streets?
ANTHONY ROMERO: We saw that New York, right? I mean, that’s how they—that’s how they dealt with many of the protests here in New York, especially after the conventions—during the conventions, where they corralled record numbers of people, arrested them in record time, in ways that were just astonishing, held them often incommunicado for 24, 36, 48 hours—a form of preventive detention, if you will.
And I think one of the things we have to bear in mind is like, look, our government is shut down. Our government is not working. People are frustrated. People may take to the streets as an important part of demonstrating their unrest, their unhappiness with our government. And so, how we protect the rights of individuals to protest and to dissent is critically important, especially in our democracy, that’s so fundamentally broken down and at loggerheads at the moment. The people—it’s the government of the people, by the people and for the people. And when the government doesn’t respond to the people, the people have to take the government back.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But to follow up on this, because what the police departments do is they don’t mind having to deal with lawsuits later on. You know, years later they end up paying these settlements to protesters who had their civil liberties violated, but at that moment they’re able to effectively shut down the dissent. So, I’m wondering how can you, as a civil liberties lawyer, find—what ways can the courts be utilized to prevent these kinds of occurrences from repeating themselves over and over again?
ANTHONY ROMERO: I think part of it, you have to—even in cases where they infringe on civil liberties and freedom of speech and expression, you have to sue, to use that as a deterrent for further police departments, to shame them, to cost taxpayers money. We have to work with police departments, those that are open to it, to hear what their concerns are for public safety. They have real concerns around public safety; they can be addressed.
We also have to make sure that we don’t allow the excessive use of less lethal force. I mean, one of the things we’ve seen in the reports on Puerto Rico, as much in Egypt and Canada and Argentina, has been the increased use of police of certain weapons, of certain tactics, which they say is less lethal, but they end up in deaths. We have deaths in the arrests in Puerto Rico. We have deaths in Argentina. We certainly have deaths in places like Egypt. And so we have to make sure that we hold the police accountable for those—for those actions.
AMY GOODMAN: And then the issue of surveillance, like our last headline today—
ANTHONY ROMERO: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —this undercover officer in the infamous West Side Highway videotape of the motorcycle gang and the guy with the SUV, that one of these officers, it turns out, was—one of these motorcycle riders was an officer, undercover, and he was undercover in Occupy Wall Street, as well—
ANTHONY ROMERO: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —picked up at Grand Central.
ANTHONY ROMERO: When you look at the fact that it’s not just what they do at the protest itself, but prior to the protests the surveillance, prior to the protests the infiltration. We have police departments who brazenly brag about sending in undercover cops to pretend they’re part of the protest movements as a way to derail them or to shape them in the ways they want. All of this, in the context after 9/11, where any activity that disagrees with the government is—often vehemently, is seen as potential terrorist activity or a potential terrorist plot, the powers of the government to use of surveillance, infiltration, the police tactics, they all have to be seen as one part of an effort to shut down and to dispel dissent. We see it. We see the fact that there’s a quell on public dissent. Muslims are less likely to express themselves now. We hear that from our clients. We hear that from our—some of the litigation we bring. And so, it’s a very pernicious part that’s very, very real and often not uncovered until we put out reports like this.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Abby, the Canadian example of the G-20 summit, what most surprised you in terms of as you were unearthing what happened there and the civil liberties violations?
ABBY DESHMAN: Well, actually, how high the police orders went. You know, we thought that this was a coordinated response. We saw that there was consistency, a really defined point in time when the policing turned during the G-20. We then had confirmation that there were orders all the way from the top, that these were not random acts by individual commanders panicking under situations, that these really were decisions that were taken by very senior police leaders to violate not only the rights of citizens, but their own policies and procedures about how to deal with protests, and really that they were taking notes from an international scene where this had happened before. We had not seen this technique in Canada. It was clear that it had happened at previous G-20 summits, and they were importing these policies.
AMY GOODMAN: Hossam Bahgat, we were just talking about the level of repression in Egypt, but fit this into this global context.
HOSSAM BAHGAT: Yes. While Egypt might be an extreme case, of course, because we have sort of crossed the threshold from just the violent repression of protests to mass and deliberate killings, really the trend in Egypt fits with the trend identified by the report in all of these case studies. We see, as Abby and Anthony mentioned, that the mass protests are not, of course, a new phenomenon, but they are taking new shapes. And whether it’s the Arab uprisings, the protests in Turkey and Brazil, the anti-austerity mass protests in Europe, the Occupy movement here, they are going to continue.
And we see the right to protest publicly and the right to dissent as an essential part of democracy. There is an attempt on the other side, by governments, to reduce the democratic rights of individuals to just voting, to being called in once every few years to cast a vote and then be sent home and leave the governance to the people that have been elected. The people refuse. The people see that, in many countries, the democratic institutions—and we’re talking in the United States here, but the democratic institutions around the world are not working and are not necessarily reflecting the wills of the people. And the people are going to continue to take their demands, yes, through channels like the media and civil society and labor unions and others, but they are going to go on the street, and they are going to protest publicly. And states need to know that they have a responsibility not just to protect this right, but to even enable people to express these rights, because the only other alternative—the killings that we’re seeing in Egypt or the killings that even started in Syria as just violence in the face of peaceful protests and turned into civil wars—these are recipes for only pushing the situation into very, very dangerous directions. And the violent response only leads to even violent protests.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and, Abby, I wanted to ask you—much was made, obviously, in Egypt and during the Arab Spring of the impact of social media and the use of the Internet by dissidents to mobilize, to communicate. In your report, did you dwell into the responses of government officials in terms of how they responded to the change in tactics of the popular movements?
ABBY DESHMAN: Yeah, absolutely. Police do say that they need new tactics because people can mobilize more quickly. Things are going out on Twitter, and then a large crowd forms. Things are very mobile on the ground. But the truth is, in my experience, during the G-20, we knew exactly what was going to happen, because it was on the Internet, it was on social media. The protesters themselves had classified their protests in terms of levels of risk. So I actually am very skeptical of those claims that they need new powers in order to try to police these new forms of protest. We knew exactly what was going to happen during the G-20 protests. They followed that pattern. The police simply weren’t prepared and then violated rights as their reaction.
AMY GOODMAN:And how should the state deal with violence?
ABBY DESHMAN: Well, the state does need to respond to violence. But I would say the state overresponds to violence, particularly in protests. So, there may be one or two or even 10 or 30 people in a crowd of thousands, tens of thousands, that commit property damage, that commit violent acts. The state often takes that as an authority to abrogate the rights of every single person in that crowd. They need to respond to violence. They need to protect the rights of all the other people in that crowd who are peacefully protesting and exercising their democratic rights. Their role is to facilitate protest, not to find excuses to shut it down.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the U.S. cutting military aid to Egypt, Hossam? How does that play into what the military government does with the protesters? Does it change?
HOSSAM BAHGAT: I mean, in Egypt, especially after the massacres, of course, our position was that there should be investigations, there should be an independent fact finding, and there should be accountability. And until that takes place and until the government also accepts responsibility for these killings, there should be a suspension of the provision of any arms or tools of repression from any country in the world. We’re not just talking about the U.S. military assistance. And any resumption of the sale of weapons or the provision of weapons or tools of repression to the Egyptian government must be conditioned on accepting the retraining and provision of, you know, new tools for riot control, but that business should not continue just as usual when it comes to Egypt.
Especially when—exactly like Abby said, the problem is now, in all of these demonstrations that we are seeing, in the report, all around the world, there is—there is always a few protesters that are going to use violence. The trend we’re seeing now is that governments use this to dub the entire protest—20,000, 30,000—as non-peaceful or as violent. And that leads to two things: One, the peaceful participants that are not using violence are, again, lumped together with the others and are deprived of their rights as peaceful protesters; and even those that do engage in stone throwing or other violence are robbed of all their other rights, including their right to life, of course. And the states are just using this as an excuse, sometimes through infiltration by provocateurs into these protests, in order to just remove entire protests outside the realm of protection of law.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to get back to Anthony Romero in terms of this whole idea of the Obama administration finally doing something in Egypt to cut off some of the military aid to the—to the coup leaders. How has the Obama administration dealt with the increasing repression by local police on public protesters? Has there been any—any actions by the Justice Department to try to rein this in, or have they basically been supportive?
ANTHONY ROMERO: They’ve basically been supportive. I mean, to be clear, the ACLU doesn’t take positions on foreign policy or the U.S. aid to Egypt, but we do look very closely about how our government, federal government, works with state and local governments. And the level of collusion between the federal agents, the FBI, and local police departments has become very troubling, the way they track and the way they monitor and do surveillance on Muslims. So, one of the key cases we have now is in New York City with the New York City Police Department, but it involves the FBIand the federal government. You see it in the immigration context, if you pull the camera back a little further back, where you find the FBI and the DOJ and Department of Homeland Security working with local sheriffs and police.
AMY GOODMAN: You have a case against Arpaio in Arizona.
ANTHONY ROMERO: Oh, it’s exactly that.
AMY GOODMAN: The sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
ANTHONY ROMERO: The sheriff, Arpaio, who resists a federal order from a federal judge to have a monitor and to have any type of accountability. But Arpaio was created by the policies of Janet Napolitano. I mean, Arpaio is not just a one—
AMY GOODMAN: When she was governor or head of the Department of Homeland Security?
ANTHONY ROMERO: Well, I would say more in the Department of Homeland Security, because it’s exactly that type of collusion that she encouraged—the 287(g) programs, the Secure Communities programs, that insisted that federal government officials work with local law enforcement officials. Now, Sheriff Arpaio has gone off the farm, but the fact is that there are too many local police departments that are working with the federal government on things like surveillance, on immigration, on dissent, on protest. And so, I think actually part of the responsibility does come from the federal government.
When a U.S. federal appeals court ruled last month that the CIA could no longer stay quiet about whether it has information on U.S. drone strikes, the decision made headlines around the world.
But for Jameel Jaffer, the Canadian-born lawyer who argued the case for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), it was the end of a three-year saga and the culmination of hundreds of hours of work for the small legal team that took on the suit.
“We thought that the CIA’s position was completely indefensible from the beginning, and it’s gratifying finally to have an appeals court agree with us,” Jaffer said by phone from New York City, where he lives. “But it’s also a limited step towards transparency.”
Since the first reported drone strike against al-Qaeda in 2002, which killed six people in Yemen including an American, the CIA has avoided officially acknowledging the program.
Such targeted killings have become more common in the intervening years, spawning a separate program operated by the U.S. military, and courting controversy along the way. Proponents argue that drone strikes are weakening al-Qaeda; critics say they create more militants than they kill and violate international law.
‘When Iran or India or whatever country has the capability to carry out these targeted killings in the same way, they’re going to be invoking the rules that the U.S. is creating right now.’—ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer
In Pakistan alone, more than 2,500 people have died in attacks by unmanned aircraft since 2004 – including more than 400 civilians, according one estimate by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Gleaning information about the strikes has proven difficult, but the appeals court ruling could represent a small step toward coaxing the drone war out of the shadows.
The ACLU lawsuit centred on a Freedom of Information Act request, filed in 2010, seeking information on the conditions under which a person can be targeted by a drone strike, and on civilians who have been killed.
The CIA has yet to announce whether it will comply with the ruling or seek an appeal. If the decision stands, Jaffer is hopeful it will pave the way for a more serious debate in the U.S. “about how much of this secrecy is actually necessary and how much of it is just serving to protect officials from accountability of their decisions.”
Since joining the ACLU more than a decade ago, Jaffer, 41, has emerged as a formidable critic of U.S. national security policy. For a while, his work took him regularly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor military tribunals there.
Another lawsuit he’s involved with argues the CIA violated the U.S. Constitution when it carried out drone strikes in 2011 that killed three American citizens in Yemen, including an al-Qaeda leader named Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son. Arguments in that case will be heard in July. If the ACLU is successful, Jaffer believes it could force the U.S. to significantly curtail its drone strikes.
But the path to his current position as deputy legal director with the New York-based rights group “wasn’t a straight line.”
An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (U.S. Air Force/Lt Col Leslie Pratt/Reuters)Raised in Kingston, Ont., Jaffer moved to Toronto in grade 11 to attend Upper Canada College. After studying at a liberal arts school in the U.S., at the U.K.’s University of Cambridge and then Harvard Law School, he eventually wound up in a job working for a Wall Street law firm in equity derivatives.
He also started volunteering with the ACLU, visiting immigration detainees rounded up after the 9/11 attacks, and soon took a full-time job with the organization.
“That turned out to be a pretty affecting experience,” he said.
Asked whether his years growing up north of the border have helped inform his work since then, Jaffer said it “keeps you aware that it’s possible to do things differently.”
But he also warns that countries including Canada should pay close attention to the policies being created in the United States to govern drone strikes.
“Even if you think there’s no realistic chance that the U.S. will carry out targeted killings in Canada…when Iran or India or whatever country has the capability to carry out these targeted killings in the same way, they’re going to be invoking the rules that the U.S. is creating right now.”
by Anthony Gucciardi
March 24th, 2013
In the typical slippery nature of Monsanto’s legislation-based actions, the biotech giant is now virtually guaranteed the ability to recklessly plant experimental GM crops without having to worry about the United States government and its subsequent courts. The Monsanto Protection Act buried deep within the budget resolution has passed the Senate, and now nothing short of a presidential veto will put an end to the ruling.
In case you’re not familiar, the Monsanto Protection Act is the name given to what’s known as a legislative rider that was inserted into the Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill. Using the deceptive title of Farmer Assurance Provision, Sec. 735 of this bill actually grants Monsanto the immunity from federal courts pending the review of any GM crop that is thought to be dangerous. Under the section, courts would be helpless to stop Monsanto from continuing to plant GM crops that are thought even by the US government to be a danger to health or the environment.
It is a lobbyist-created recurring nuisance that has been squashed in previous legislation thanks to outcry from not only grassroots but major organizations. Last time we saw The Center for Food Safety, the National Family Farm Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists all come out against the Monsanto Protection Act from the 2012 Farm Bill.
This time, there was a swift resistance I thought might be enough, however sadly the Senate acted so quickly on this and almost entirely ignored the issue that it has now passed despite thousands of fans signing the old petition I linked to in my previous articles on the subject. The old petition by Food Democracy Now detailed the effects of the bill:
“If approved, the Monsanto Protection Act would force the USDA to allow continued planting of any GMO crop under court review, essentially giving backdoor approval for any new genetically engineered crops that could be potentially harmful to human health or the environment.”
That said, now a new petition exists telling Obama to veto the bill. The reality is that the bill is actually seen as a positive one by most politicians, which is where Monsanto lobbyists were so deceptive and slippery as to throw in their rider (the actual Monsanto Protection Act into the bill). This makes it very unappealing to veto the bill, but also we must remember that Obama actually promised to immediately label GMOs back in 2007 when running for President.
In case you don’t believe me, here’s the video:
The simple fact is that this bill will likely not be vetoed by Obama, and instead Monsanto will get what they wanted. That said, this ushers in an entirely new era of activism. Monsanto has decided to push the envelope in a way that is unprecedented, fighting the US federal courts. I expected to see almost immediate legal action taken that will certainly hit the headlines, leading to even more people to become aware of what’s really going on with this company and therefore their dinner.
Sometimes in order to truly have an intellectual revolution on a subject, the people need to see exactly what they are facing. With the truly blatant and downright arrogant Monsanto Protection Act, it’s now clearer than ever.
As the ACLU notes, this is a hell of a lot more information than law enforcement could ever reasonably achieve in the past — especially without a warrant.
Before the age of smartphones, it was impossible for police to gather this much private information about a person’s communications, historical movements, and private life during an arrest. Our pockets and bags simply aren’t big enough to carry paper records revealing that much data. We would have never carried around several years’ worth of correspondence, for example—but today, five-year-old emails are just a few clicks away using the smartphone in your pocket. The fact that we now carry this much private, sensitive information around with us means that the government is able to get this information, too.
The type of data stored on a smartphone can paint a near-complete picture of even the most private details of someone’s personal life. Call history, voicemails, text messages and photographs can provide a catalogue of how—and with whom—a person spends his or her time, exposing everything from intimate photographs to 2 AM text messages. Web browsing history may include Google searches for Alcoholics Anonymous or local gay bars. Apps can expose what you’re reading and listening to. Location information might uncover a visit to an abortion clinic, a political protest, or a psychiatrist.
The whole idea that law enforcement can search your mobile phone is based on the idea that they can search items in your possession. But that never took into account the digital record that is stored in your mobile phone that goes way, way beyond what someone in the past could effectively carry in a box or a bag or something.
Apr 4 2012,
Officers in numerous states and cities get detailed information from cell-phone carriers without a warrant — and legislators ought to stop them.
With the phrase “Big Brother is watching,” George Orwell captured the central role constant surveillance plays in dystopian visions. It’s no surprise that Americans are made uneasy by ubiquitous video cameras tracking our movements in much the same way as 1984′s screens, or the prospect of countless, effectively invisible drones monitoring our streets from the sky. What bothers far fewer people is the practice of carrying, at all times in their pocket, a cell phone that permits their every move to be monitored. You’d think, given the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections, that law enforcement would need a warrant to access such information.
But you’d be wrong.
As the New York Times reports, “Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight.” Credit for the discovery goes to the ACLU, which used freedom of information laws to survey police departments nationwide about their behavior. Some jurisdictions require officers to obtain warrants before asking always compliant wireless carriers for data on their customers. But in many jurisdictions, there is no such deference to individual rights. Depending on your phone, officers can get GPS data that shows everywhere you’ve been, and they needn’t even tell you they’re doing so. It’s a practice that renders privacy rights almost meaningless.
Perversely, cell phone carriers are even profiting from sharing information about their customers. Says the Times, “Cell carriers, staffed with special law enforcement liaison teams, charge police departments from a few hundred dollars for locating a phone to more than $2,200 for a full-scale wiretap of a suspect.” Adds the ACLU, “then there are police departments in places like Gilbert, Arizona, which have purchased their own cell tracking technology.”
CONTINUE WITH STORY—->>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
by Frida Berrigan
Strip. Bend. Spread. Cough. That is what five of nine Supreme Court justices — themselves swathed in so many layers of robes and clothes to be almost indistinguishable from one another — have just told the American people. Watch out. If you’re suspected of any crime, you may be arrested, processed and strip searched — a severe and invasive form of punishment meted out all before being found guilty.
Any crime. Making a left hand turn without your turn signal. Pooping without scooping. Demonstrating without a permit. Walking a leashless dog.
Before making this judgment, the Supreme Court heard an epic tale of justice failing. One minute in 2005, Albert Florence was sitting in the passenger seat of the family BMW, his pregnant wife behind the wheel and his four-year-old son tucked in his car seat in the back. The next minute, he was off on an eight-day odyssey that included two strip searches. All of it was the result of a computer error.
They were pulled over for speeding — although no ticket was ever doled out. Mr. Florence and his wife’s licenses were taken, and a search turned up an outstanding warrant based on an unpaid fine. It was not one of those “take him at any cost” kind of warrants. It was a “make sure he sees a magistrate” warrant. In fact, failure to pay a fine in New Jersey is a non-indictable offense. It turns out that the fine had been paid, and Mr. Florence, the finance executive at a car dealership, just so happened to carry the proof of payment (from 2003) with him at all times. He was prepared, as a young African-American man with a nice car, to be pulled over by police.
Nonetheless, he was removed from the car, put under arrest and taken to jail — all in front of his wife and small child.
That was just the beginning of his humiliation. He was first sent to Burlington County jail where he spent almost a week, and then to Essex Count jail — eight days and two strip searches —before a judge finally ordered him released without charge. “Turn around,” jail officials told Mr. Florence. “Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.” He told The New York Times in a March 2011 interview, “I consider myself a man’s man. Six-three. Big guy. It was humiliating. It made me feel less than a man. It made me feel not better than an animal.”
As the case of Trayvon Martin’s extrajudicial execution lingers unresolved and unprosecuted, and police stop and frisk and racial profiling policies become routine, one has to wonder if a white couple would have been treated in the same manner under similar circumstances.
Florence did what any aggrieved and righteous citizen has the right to do. He sued the Burlington and Essex jails for violating his Fourth Amendment rights to privacy without suspicion that he was concealing weapons or contraband. And he was vindicated. A federal judge sided with him, along with others in similar circumstances. But, then, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed saying that “the jails’ interest in safety and security outweighed the privacy interests of detainees — even those accused of minor crimes. Judges must defer to the policy judgments of jail officials, the appeals court added.”
Florence’s lawyer rejoined that this made zero sense — unless Albert Florence was a devious Houdini-in-reverse, trying to get himself arrested so that he could get into jail with contraband that he could then sell or trade. But, the majority of the Supreme Court Justices said that they could not “second-guess the judgments of correctional officials who must consider not only the possibility of smuggled weapons and drugs, but also public health and information about gang affiliations.” Information, that is, gleaned through strip searches once people are processed in jail.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that “every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed.” He added that about 13 million people are admitted each year to the nation’s jails. That 13 million figure is worth its own blog post!
The American Civil Liberties Union disagrees. Legal director Stephen Shapiro comments that the decision “jeopardizes the privacy rights of millions of people who are arrested each year and brought to jail, often for minor offenses. Being forced to strip naked is a humiliating experience that no one should have to endure absent reasonable suspicion.”
The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief stating that “a strip search of detainees like Mr. Florence upon admission to a prison, without some other individualized reasonable suspicion, is not justified by security concerns and is therefore inconsistent with the respect for the human dignity of prisoners to which the ABA is deeply committed.” Their standard, which references the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, asserts that “no prisoners should be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or conditions.”
The ABA went one step further, reminding Kennedy — the “swing vote” justice in this case — of his 2003 speech to the ABA where he remarked that “a purpose to degrade or demean individuals is not acceptable in a society founded on respect for the inalienable rights of the people.” Maybe they should have put that quote in bold face type, because Kennedy missed the message.
An activist friend of mine who is now in law school responded to this ruling by writing that everyone wanting to pass the bar or sit on the bench should be required to spend at least one night in jail. That makes a lot of sense to me.
Before being able to sit in judgment or dole out jail sentences or “represent” a client, prospective judges and lawyers and prosecutors should have to surrender all freedom and privacy, eat a baloney sandwich on white bread (and be hungry enough to be just a little grateful for it), drink bug juice (and be thirsty or bored enough to enjoy it just a little), figure out how to use the toilet in a holding room with thirty other people (without touching the seat or the aid of toilet paper), realize that people only get a phone call on TV, and be known just by a number.
I have been arrested a number of times and held overnight. While I have never been strip searched, I can tell you that even the over-clothing pat downs can be pretty invasive. I have one bony rib that protrudes at a funny angle, and I am always made to explain — sometimes at great length — that it is under my skin and will not harm anyone.
How all of this will sort itself out remains to be seen. A handful of states maintain that strip searches after arrest for minor infractions is an overreach. They are not affected by the Supreme Court ruling. So, if you are going to get arrested and don’t want to get naked — do it in Kentucky, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Washington, New Jersey, Illinois, Tennessee, Florida or Colorado, according to the ACLU.
In the meantime, activists are being to think about how to counter and undermine the ruling. Occupy folks are talking about group showers before actions to get preemptively clean for the police. One entrepreneurial activist is considering a line of underwear with messages directed at the police performing strip searches. Put your own thinking cap on. There is room for loads more creativity here. This ruling cries out for unabashed mockery and bold resistance.
1st June 2011
Florida’s Republican governor has invoked the fury of privacy advocates after signing into law a bill requiring welfare recipients to undergo drugs tests.
Rick Scott is already facing a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida seeking to half a similar order mandating drug testing for state employees.
The ACLU has slammed the law as an ‘extreme overreach’ of his powers. Officials are considering a similar lawsuit over the welfare bill, which he signed into law yesterday.
But Mr Scott was defiant over the laws, proclaiming that taxpayers should not have to subsidize drug addiction.
‘While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction,’ he said.
‘This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars.’
Opponents have slammed the tests as a similar waste of taxpayers’ money, however.
Welfare applicants who test positive will not receive government help for a year, or until they undergo treatment.
Those who fail a second time will be banned from receiving public funds for three years.
Right to privacy? Florida governor Rick Scott has signed a law forcing welfare recipients to undergo drugs tests (file photo)
If they are found to be drug free they will be reimbursed for the tests, according to the law.
The law is set to come into force by July 1.
It immediately drew an outcry from the ACLU.
‘The wasteful program created by this law subjects Floridians who are impacted by the economic downturn, as well as their families, to a humiliating search of their urine and body fluids without cause or even suspicion of drug abuse,’ said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.
‘Searching the bodily fluids of those in need of assistance is a scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound policy. Today, that unsound policy is Florida law.’
The ACLU has already gone to court with Mr Scott over the drug testing of state employees.
Mr Scott ordered drug testing of new hires and spot checks of existing state employees under him in March and gave state agencies 60 days to decide how to implement the plan.
The state already has the power to test employees if they suspect drug abuse, but this order could apply to state employees regardless of suspicions.
‘This is a governor who is willing to use the power of government to intrude upon your rights in Florida,’ Mr Simon said.
‘The analysis of urine also tells a lot more about you that is nobody’s business,’ he said.
That includes whether an employee is pregnant, or taking heart, diabetes, depression or other medications.
The ACLU won a similar lawsuit on behalf of a Department of Juvenile Justice employee in 2004 after a federal judge said random testing without suspicion was unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of Tallahassee determined the department was wrong to fire an office employee because he had no direct contact with children nor were there any safety reasons for the testing, such as carrying a gun or driving.
Judge Hinkle did not reinstate the employee but ordered mediation. The state settled with the former employee for $150,000.
The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed blanket suspicion-less drug testing only if ‘the risk to public safety is substantial and real.’
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of a union representing about 50,000 state employees and Richard Flamm, a 17-year state employee from St. Petersburg who works as a researcher for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
‘It’s kind of insulting that my boss, in essence the governor, is treating his staff like this,’ said Mr. Flamm. ‘It’s an egregious use of taxpayer money.’
Florida’s Constitution guarantees public employees the right to bargain, but it also prohibits them from striking, giving them little leverage.
An attorney for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, said the governor’s office has not contacted them about the issue.
Critics say the tests could cost the state millions, creating unnecessary expenses while government budgets have been slashed.
‘We have a chief executive saying I want to put perhaps millions of dollars out of my state budget to pay for unnecessary, unconstitutional drug testing when he have an economic crisis, when we have budget slashes. It is disappointing,’ said Alma Gonzalez , an attorney for AFSCME.
The governor’s office could not provide an estimate on how much the testing may cost, saying they are still working out logistics.
‘If it makes good business sense for private sector companies to drug test their employees, why wouldn’t it make good business sense for the state,’ a spokesman said.
Agreements between private citizens and private companies are not protected under the same Constitutional rights as state employees, according to ACLU attorneys.
American Civil Liberties Union says jail in South Carolina is banning books ‘for no good reason’
Prisoners at a jail in South Carolina are being denied any reading material other than the Bible, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the “unconstitutional” policy at Berkeley County detention centre in Moncks Corner on behalf of monthly journal Prison Legal News last autumn. Last week a request by the US Department of Justice to stand alongside Prison Legal News as a plaintiff in the lawsuit was granted by a federal judge, and the ACLU has now asked a federal judge to block enforcement of a policy which it claims sees the jail’s officials “unconstitutionally refusing to allow prisoners to receive any materials that contain staples or pictures of any level of nudity, including beachwear or underwear”, effectively banning most books, magazines and newspapers.
Last year’s lawsuit quotes an email from a member of staff at the prison to Prison Legal News, which said that “our inmates are only allowed to receive soft back bibles in the mail directly from the publisher. They are not allowed to have magazines, newspapers, or any other type of books”. It charges that, since 2008, copies of Prison Legal News and books – including Protecting Your Health and Safety, which explains legal rights to inmates – sent to prisoners at the jail have been returned to sender. There is no library at the Berkeley County detention centre, the ACLU says, so that “prisoners who are incarcerated for extended periods of time have been deprived of access to magazines, newspapers and books – other than the Bible – for months or even years on end”.
Officials at the jail responded to the ACLU lawsuit by saying that they only banned material containing staples and nudity. But the new ACLU motion to block this policy points out that legal pads containing staples were being sold at the jail. It claims that the no staples or nudity policy was “adopted post hoc and in response to this Case”, and that it “eliminate[s] access to reading material almost as completely as the ‘Bible only’ rule”.
“This is nothing more than an excuse by jail officials to ban books and magazines for no good reason,” said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU national prison project. “There is no justification for denying detainees access to periodicals and in the process cutting them off from the outside world.”
“Jail officials are looking for any excuse they can come up with to obscure the fact that they are unconstitutionally censoring materials sent to detainees,” added Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “And in so doing they are failing to serve the detainees and the taxpayers of South Carolina. Helping prisoners rehabilitate themselves and maintain a connection to the outside world by reading books and magazines is a key part of what should be our larger and fiscally prudent objective of reducing the number of people we lock up by lowering recidivism rates.”
BEIJING, April 10 (Xinhua) — China retorted the U.S. criticism on its human rights situation by publishing a report of the U.S. human rights record on Sunday.
The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010 was released by the Information Office of China’s State Council, or cabinet, in response to the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010 issued by the U.S. Department of State on April 8.
The U.S. reports are “full of distortions and accusations of the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China. However, the United States turned a blind eye to its own terrible human rights situation and seldom mentioned it,” China’s report said.
The United States has taken human rights as “a political instrument to defame other nations’ image and seek its own strategic interests,” the report said.
While illustrating a dismal record of the United States on its own human rights, China’s report said the United States could not be justified to pose as the world’s “human rights justice.”
“However, it released the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices year after year to accuse and blame other countries for their human rights practices,” the report said.
These moves fully expose the United States’ hypocrisy by exercising double standards on human rights and its malicious design to pursue hegemony under the pretext of human rights, it said.
The report advised the U.S. government to “take concrete actions to improve its own human rights conditions, check and rectify its acts in the human rights field, and stop the hegemonistic deeds of using human rights issues to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.”
VIOLATION OF CITIZENS’ RIGHTS
In the United States, the violation of citizens’ civil and political rights by the government is severe, said the report.
Citizens’ privacy has been undermined. More than 6,600 travelers had been subject to electronic device searches between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010, nearly half of them American citizens, said the report, citing figures released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in September 2010.
The report said abuse of violence and torturing suspects to get confession is serious in the U.S. law enforcement, and “wrongful conviction occurred quite often.”
While advocating Internet freedom, the U.S. in fact imposes fairly strict restriction on cyberspace, said the report.
The United States applies double standards on Internet freedom by requesting unrestricted “Internet freedom” in other countries, which becomes an important diplomatic tool for the U.S. to impose pressure and seek hegemony, and imposing strict restriction within its own territory, the report said.
The U.S. regards itself as “the beacon of democracy.” However, its democracy is largely based on money, the report said.
According to media report in 2010, U.S. House and Senate candidates shattered fundraising records for a midterm election, taking in more than 1.5 billion U.S. dollars as of October 24. The midterm election, held in November 2010, finally cost 3.98 billion U.S. dollars, the most expensive in the U.S. history.
HIGHEST INCIDENCE OF VIOLENT CRIMES
One out of every five people is a victim of a crime in the United States every year, said the report.
The United States reports the world’ s highest incidence of violent crimes, and its people’s lives, properties and personal security are not duly protected, the report said.
In 2009, an estimated 4.3 million violent crimes, 15.6 million property crimes and 133,000 personal thefts were committed against U.S. residents aged 12 or older, and the violent crime rate was 17.1 victimizations per 1,000 persons, said the report, quoting figures from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The United States also ranks first in the world in terms of the number of privately-owned guns and has high incidence of gun-related crimes, said the report, noting that the United States exercised lax control on the already rampant gun ownership.
Some 90 million people own an estimated 200 million guns in the United States, which has a population of about 300 million, the report said citing figures from the public media.
Statistics showed there were 12,000 gun murders a year in the United States, the report said.
The report also said that the frequent campus shootings in colleges in the United States came to the spotlight in recent years.
RACIAL DISCRIMINATION DEEP-SEATED
“Racial discrimination, deep-seated in the United States, has permeated every aspect of social life,” said the report.
Minority groups confront discrimination in their employment and occupation. The black people are treated unfairly or excluded in promotion, welfare and employment, the report quoted U.S media reports as saying.
It is reported that one-third of black people confronted discrimination at work, against which only one-sixteenth of the black people would lodge a complaint.
The New York Times reported on September 23, 2010 that by the end of September 30, 2009, Muslim workers had filed a record 803 claims of complaints over employment discrimination, up 20 percent from the previous year.
The report said U.S. minority groups have high unemployment rate, and do not enjoy the same political status as white people.
Poverty proportion for U.S. minorities is high in the United States. The poverty proportion of the black was 25.8 percent in 2009, and those of Hispanic origin and Asian were 25.3 percent and 12.5 percent respectively, much higher than that of the non-Hispanic white at 9.4 percent, said the report, citing U.S. media figures.
The report also said that U.S. minority groups face obvious inequality in education, and the health care for African-American people is worrisome.
Racial discrimination is evident in the law enforcement and judicial systems, racial hate crimes are frequent, and immigrants’ rights and interests are not guaranteed, said the report.
POVERTY PROPORTION HITS RECORD HIGH
Proportion of American people living in poverty has risen to a record high, according to the report.
A total of 44 million Americans found themselves in poverty in 2009, four million more than that of 2008, said the report.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the share of residents in poverty climbed to 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest level recorded since 1994.
People in hunger and homeless Americans increased sharply, and the number of American people without health insurance increased progressively every year, said the report.
Meanwhile, unemployment rate in the United States has been stubbornly high, according to report.
Media figures showed that from December 2007 to October 2010, a total of 7.5 million jobs were lost in the country.
WOMEN, CHILDREN RIGHTS SITUATION BOTHERING
Gender discrimination against women widely exists in the United States, and women in the country often experience sexual assault and violence.
Statistics showed that some 20 million women are rape victims in the country, some one fifth female students on campus are victims of sexual assault, and nearly 3,000 female soldiers were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2008, up nine percent from the year before.
Women are also victims of domestic violence in the United States, said the report, as some 1.3 million people fall victim to domestic violence every year, with women accounting for 92 percent.
Many children in the U.S. live in poverty and their physical and mental health is not ensured as nearly one in four children struggles with hunger, according to the report.
The report also pointed out that violence against children is very severe in the country, citing figures from the official website of Love Our Children USA that every year, over three million children are victims of violence reportedly and the actual number is three times greater.
More than 93,000 children are currently incarcerated in the United States, and between 75 and 93 percent of children have experienced at least one traumatic experience, including sexual abuse and neglect, the report said.
According to the report, pornographic content is rampant on the Internet and severely harms American children as seven in 10 children have accidentally accessed pornography on the Internet and one in three has done so intentionally.
INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
The United States has a notorious record of international human rights violations, said the report.
The U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused huge civilian casualties.
Figures from the WikiLeaks website revealed up to 285,000 war casualties in Iraq from March 2003 through the end of 2009, with 63 percent of the 109,000 people killed in the Iraq war being civilians.
“The U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and other regions have also brought tremendous casualties to local people,” said the report.
The report cited the notorious case of a “kill team” formed by five soldiers from the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The team had committed at least three murders, where they randomly targeted and killed Afghan civilians, and dismembered the corpses and hoarded the human bones.
In addition, the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops had caused 535 Afghan civilian deaths and injuries in 2009. Among them 113 civilians were shot and killed, an increase of 43 percent over 2008, the report quoted McClatchy Newspapers as saying.
PRISONER ABUSE SCANDALS
The United States have been holding individuals captured under the pretext of the “war on terror” and abusing detainees with various methods, according to the report.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established secret detention facilities to interrogate so-called “high-value detainees,” said the report, citing a document submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2010.
According to the document, the CIA had taken custody of 94 detainees, and had employed “enhanced techniques” to varying degrees, including stress positions, extreme temperature changes, sleep deprivation and “waterboarding” in the interrogation of 28 of those detainees.
FAILURE TO FULFILL INTERNATIONAL OBLIGATIONS
The United States refused to join several key international human rights conventions and failed to fulfill its international obligations, according to the report.
To date, the United States has ratified neither the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, nor the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, said the report.
Also, the country has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been ratified by 96 countries up to now, according to the report.
So far, a total of 193 countries have joined the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but the United States is among the very few countries that have not ratified it, the report said.
In addition, the first report of the domestic human rights situation submitted by the U.S. government to the UN Human Rights Council on August 20, 2010 received a record 228 recommendations by about 60 country delegations for improving its human rights situation during the UN Universal Periodic Review.
These recommendations referred to, inter alia, ratifying key international human rights conventions, rights of ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, racial discriminations and Guantanamo prison. The United States, however, only accepted some 40 of them.
In the discussion on the United States, speakers from some country delegations noted that the United States’ commitment to the human rights area was far from satisfying, and they urged the United States to face up to its own human rights record and take concrete actions to tackle the existing human rights problems, according to the report.
Bob Sullivan writes:The “Universal Forensic Extraction Device” sounds like the perfect cell phone snooping gadget.
Its maker, Israel-based Cellbrite, says it can copy all the content in a cell phone – including contacts, text messages, call history, and pictures – within a few minutes. Even deleted texts and other data can be restored by UFED 2.0, the latest version of the product, it says.
And it really is a universal tool. The firm says UFED works with 3,000 cell phone models, representing 95 percent of the handset market. Coming soon, the firm says on its website: “Additional major breakthroughs, including comprehensive iPhone physical solution; Android physical support – allowing bypassing of user lock code, (Windows Phone) support, and much more.” For good measure, UFEC can extract information from GPS units in most cars.
The gadget isn’t a stalker’s dream; it’s an evidence-gathering tool for law enforcement. Cellbrite claims it’s already in use in 60 countries.
That apparently includes the U.S. The American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan says it has learned that state police there have purchased some of the gadgets. What is it doing with them? So far, Michigan authorities aren’t telling. A public records request for information by the ACLU was met with a prohibitive $500,000 bill to cover the supposed cost of making the documents available.
“They did produce documents which confirmed that they have them,” said Mark Fancher, a staff attorney at the ACLU office. “We have no idea what they are doing with them.”
Technology and the Fourth Amendment have had a rocky relationship. When The Founding Fathers created protections against unlimited search and seizure, they never imagined the kind of tools that would be available to 21st century police officers.
Cell phone data is an indispensible tool in both investigations and prosecutions. A drug dealer’s contact list is an obvious treasure trove. Location information stored in the phone can prove (or disprove) an alibi. Texts are at least as valuable as emails. Increasingly, smartphone s are used as mini-laptops, placing even more ready-made evidence in one small package — as long as law enforcement can get to it before it’s destroyed.
Because handsets are nearly always with suspects, it’s easy for a would-be criminal to delete information during a traffic stop. Remote wiping programs exist that mean critical evidence could be destroyed even after a police officer takes possession of a suspect’s phone. That means law enforcement official s have great interest in slurping up all the secrets that a handset might contain as quickly as possible. Enter Cellbrite.
But how fast is too fast? Fancher and the ACLU argue that most cell phone searches are an invasion of privacy that requires law enforcement officials to get a court order before rummaging through a suspect’s handset data. While UFED could be used after an order is obtained, its obvious focus is on time-critical searches — those that would occur, for example, right after a “routine traffic stop.”
“The Fourth Amendment protects citizens and allows them to have some confidence that law enforcement can’t go in on a whim and take a look at most private details of our lives,” said Fancher. “Our concern is that the device can empty a cell phone within 90 seconds, offering law enforcement a powerful ability to intrude on and infringe on people’s rights.”
Do cops need a court order to search the contents of a cell phone? The law is still evolving, but at least one recent major decision chose police over privacy. The California Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that allowed police to use text message evidence they’d obtained without a court order. The ruling seemed to open the door to widespread use of warrantless cell phone searches in California.
But Fancher cautioned against generalizing too much from a single search-and-seizure case.
“They often involve a lot of nuance,” he said. “You really have to go case-by-case when searches are involved.”
There are clear-cut cases where court orders wouldn’t be required to search cell phones — if police are in hot pursuit of a crime or have probable cause to believe that evidence is in immediate danger of being destroyed. Such situations are exceptions, however, Fancher said. He’s concerned that the easy-to-use gadgets in the hands of field officers would make cell phone searches the rule, rather the exception.
Cellbrite didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. On its website, the firm says it was founded in 1999 and was purchased by a Japanese company in 2007. Its data-slurping technology grew out of products it sells that are used to transfer contact information from old phones to a new phones at cell phone retailers.
The Michigan State Police did not respond to a request for comment.
Technology continues to throw major legal headaches at law enforcement officials and Fourth Amendment rights advocates.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently mulling a related issue involving the use of persistent GPS monitoring of suspects without a warrant. In that case, the FBI placed a GPS monitoring device on a suspect’s car without a warrant and then tracked his driving for driving weeks. The Department of Justice says the technique is akin to surveillance on public roads, but a federal appeals court ruled that such aggregation of movements over time constituted a Fourth Amendment violation. Because the ruling conflicts with other appeals court rulings in similar cases, the Department of Justice recently asked the Supreme Court to take the case and settle the matter.
Fancher said his quest for information about the cell phone data copying device from the Michigan State Police began in 2008. After receiving a $500,000 bill for records requests, along with a demand for a $250,000 down payment, the ACLU tried to narrow its requests to reach a more reasonable cost. It filed 70 FOIA requests last November, for example. But the method also proved fruitless.
“We have tried everything we know of to work with FOIA personnel to get the documents we seek and had no success, so we’ve taken the opportunity to go to the top and try to shake things loose,” Fancher said. On April 13, the ACLU sent a letter to State Police Director Kriste Etue, and made that letter public to the media.
“The ACLU should not have to go on a fishing expedition in order to discover whether the state police are violating the privacy of individuals through the use of new, sophisticated technology,” the letter read.
The ACLUs real concern with the gadgets is that they will prove too tempting for state troopers, and abuses will occur.
“We’re not accusing the state police of using them improperly. It’s not illegal or improper for them to have them,” he said. “Our concern is, what are they doing to insure they are complying with constitutional requirements? … We’d be interested, for example, in what kinds of supervision there is over their use.”
“Incarcerating people simply because they cannot afford to pay their legal debts is not only unconstitutional but also has a devastating impact upon men and women whose only crime is that they are poor,” said ACLU senior staff attorney Eric Balaban.
Two reports published by NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal a rising trend of patently unconstitutional practices in cash-strapped states, where a growing number of impoverished people are jailed for being unable to pay their legal fees – including charges for use of public defenders, a guaranteed right in the United States. The resurgence of these draconian “debtors’ prisons” has been documented in at least 13 of the 15 states with the largest prison populations in the country, including California, Arizona, Michigan and Alabama.
“Incarcerating people simply because they cannot afford to pay their legal debts is not only unconstitutional but also has a devastating impact upon men and women whose only crime is that they are poor,” said ACLU senior staff attorney Eric Balaban.
Many states view the fees as a method for helping to alleviate budget deficits. In New Orleans, Louisiana, legal fines comprise almost two-thirds of criminal courts’ operating budgets. But the ACLU found in its report, “In for a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtors’ Prisons,” that jailing individuals for failing to pay legal fees actually places the financial burden on the state, wasting taxpayer money and resources to keep those individuals in jail or on public welfare as they struggle to pay their overwhelming debts.
Moreover, these and other penalties creates obstacles for those re-entering society after completing their criminal sentence; the Brennan Center report, “Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry,” notes that eight of the 15 states studied suspend driving privileges of individuals who miss debt payments, while seven states require them to complete their full payments before regaining eligibility to vote. Such unnecessary setbacks often pave the way for those on probation to return to jail through no fault of their own.
“We are undermining the integrity of our criminal justice system and creating a two-tiered system of justice in which the poorest among us are punished more harshly than those with means, at a great cost to taxpayers,” said ACLU deputy legal director Vanita Gupta.
Imprisoning probationers for failing to pay court debts was found unconstitutional in 1980, when Georgia resident Danny Bearden was sent to prison for two years when he could not pay $550 in legal fees, despite his efforts. In Bearden v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that such practices violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment – but states throughout the country have begun openly disregarding these principles in their efforts to balance their budgets.
The ACLU report highlights a few exemplary cases. Gregory White, a homeless man in Louisiana, was arrested for stealing $39 worth of food from a grocery store and assigned $339 in legal fees; when he was jailed for being unable to pay, White spent 198 days in jail at a cost of $35,000 to the city.
Georgia resident Ora Lee Hurley owed $705 in fines from a 1990 drug possession conviction and remained in jail for eight months for failing to pay.
Kawana Young, a 25-year-old single mother in Michigan, was told after the fact that her community service hours would not satisfy her debts because she had volunteered with a nonprofit organization. Young has since been jailed five times for being unable to pay her fees.
And Percy Dear, a New Orleans resident who suffers from epilepsy, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, was arrested for begging in 2007. After pleading guilty, Dear was sentenced with either paying an immediate fine of $200 or spending 20 days in jail. Dear was unable to pay his fine at once and was incarcerated. These particular “fine or time” sentences are a glaring example of methods that plainly punish indigent cases while allowing wealthy individuals to go free on the same charges.
Judge Calvin Johnson, who served for 17 years in the Criminal District Court or Orleans Parish, said that regularly sentencing defendants in a “fine or time” method could have cost the city more than it collected. “30 days or $100 – that was something I heard every day,” said Johnson in the ACLU report. “Now, how can you describe a system where the city pays $23 a day to the Sheriff to house someone in jail for 30 days to collect $100 as anything other than crazy?”
“People are emerging from the criminal justice process with significant debts that they cannot hope to repay,” said Brennan Center Deputy Director Rebekah Diller. “As a result, these fees are creating new paths back to prison for those unable to pay.”
Former Montgomery County, Ohio, public defender Glen H. Dewar is profiled in the ACLU report for his efforts in eliminating the state’s debtors’ prisons. Dewar stated in the report, “My estimate is that 20 to 25 percent of all local incarcerations statewide are for fines and costs, while about 50 percent of arrests are for fines and costs … [until 2000], none of the persons arrested for nonpayment of fines and costs appeared on any court docket. Nor were they ever scheduled to appear at any particular time before any particular judge or magistrate.” Before county jail records were computerized, Dewar said, “the scope of the problem, in terms of both numbers of arrests and days in jail, remained hidden … the county also expanded jail space at a cost of millions, unaware of the fact that it was not for criminals but debtors.”
As noted in the Brennan Center report, several states have also started to utilize practices that violate the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees defendants a right to counsel. Florida, North Carolina and Virginia have all implemented mandatory defender fees and provide no opportunity to waive them for indigent cases.
According to the report, “defender fees often discourage individuals from exercising their constitutional right to an attorney – leading to wrongful convictions, over-incarceration and significant burdens on the operation of courts. In Michigan, for example, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association found that the threat of paying the full cost of assigned counsel resulted in misdemeanor defendants systematically waiving their right to counsel – at a rate of 95 percent in one county.” In Virginia, defendants often face up to $1,235 per count for some felonies.
The Brennan Center recommends that states eliminate public defender fees and offer community service programs that build job skills, among other state and local policy reforms; the ACLU similarly recommends that a judicial assessment of a convicted defendant’s ability to pay fines must be comprehensive.