Emily was an intern with BORDC from the fall of 2010 to the spring of 2011, during which she worked on various grassroots campaigns. She is currently transitioning from homeschooling to community college where she plans on studying political science and community organizing. In her free time she does local advocacy work, writes, and encourages kids to leave school.
July 3, 2012 at 10:02 am
June 26, 2012 at 7:44 am
The Obama administration announced drastic measures to curb government leaks of information this past week, just as a group of congressional representatives introduced a bill into Congress that would help limit government secrecy.
The State Secrets Protection Act, or HR 5956, would limit the power of the state secrets privilege, a legal mechanism through which the executive branch has refused to produce evidence to courts on the basis that doing so would supposedly harm national security. The state secrets privilege was an evidentiary doctrine born through a military cover-up that has expanded over time to serve as a wholesale immunity doctrine hiding various kinds of government misconduct. Throughout the post 9/11 era, both the Bush and Obama administrations have asserted the state secrets privilege to shield from judicial review various executive abuses, ranging from torture and rendition, to unconstitutional mass dragnet surveillance, and even summary executions of American citizens without trial or charge.
The State Secrets Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would require judges to assess the validity of a state secrets claim, instead of automatically falling in line with the executive assertion that hiding certain evidence is vital to national security. Additionally, the bill would require judges to consider alternatives to simply dismissing a case (such as reviewing a case under seal) when sustaining a claim to the privilege.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is continuing its campaign for unchecked government secrecy. This week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced that employees who are eligible for polygraph tests will be asked about their interactions and discussions with journalists. Additionally, there will be new penalties instituted for government employees who leak information to news sources.
Not only is the reasoning behind this secrecy flawed, but it leaves serious doubt as to the defensability of government actions. Gene Healy, Vice President of the Cato Institute, said it best in a recent op-ed: “As the self-styled ‘most transparent administration in history’ continues to shield more and more government operations behind a veil of secrecy, it’s worth asking, what is it so afraid of?”
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June 25, 2012 at 12:39 pm
United Nations investigators have raised concerns about the human rights abuses committed by the Obama administration, both domestically and abroad. Just this week, a UN investigator called upon the Obama administration to justify its use of drones abroad and clarify its policy on extrajudicial assassinations.
“My concern is that we are dealing here with a situation that creates precedents around the world,” said Christof Heyns, a UN investigator. Or as Washington Post columnist David Ignatius noted back in May,
What if Iran used [drone strikes] against Kurdish separatists they regard as terrorists? What if Russia used them over Chechnya? What position would the United States take, and wouldn’t it be hypocritical if it opposed drone attacks by other nations that face “imminent” or “significant” threats?
Likewise, the UN also announced it will be issuing a report concerning the federal government’s lack of response to local police abuses of Occupy protesters’ rights. In December, a letter from the UN urged the US to “take all necessary measures to guarantee that the rights and freedoms of all peaceful protesters be respected.” In addition, it called upon the government to “adopt effective measures to investigate, sanction those responsible, and prevent the recurrence of these acts.”
Not only was no action taken to prevent these crackdowns, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) even helped them take place through a nationwide network of surveillance on Occupy sites and protesters.
These are just a few of the many human rights violations committed by the US government. Despite policies against it, torture and inhumane treatment of detainees continue to be committed both domestically and abroad. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA) revoked due process rights of detainees, internet freedom is threatened, massive immigrant deportation programs continue, and Congress still fails to pass a legitimate racial profiling policy.
These actions should take precedence in American minds and media today—instead of the usual partisan bickering. The fact that these human rights violations took place under a Republican administration and have continued under the current Democratic one makes evident that the solution is not on the shoulders of any one person or party.
These policies and actions should be condemned by the UN and Americans as well. Only with enough public outrage will they ever be stopped.
June 18, 2012 at 10:03 am
The Berkeley City Council endorsed and discussed a package of changes to police agreements and policies that would protect civil rights at a community meeting this week. The proposals were brought forth by the Coalition for a Safer Berkeley, of which the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) is an organizing member.
“This dialogue between Council and community is historic,” said coalition member George Lippman. “The community calls for police resources to focus on crime-fighting, not gathering and sharing intelligence on civil disobedience and political and religious dissent.” The proposals also address local police collaboration with federal deportation initiatives such as the program Secure Communities (S-COMM).
A big victory occurred when the council overwhelmingly agreed that secret surveillance by police of non-violent civil disobedience protesters should be prohibited. The council also agreed that the type of information collected by police and sent through Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) to fusion centers—a massive conglomeration of data on individuals from corporate, military, and federal, state and local police—should be refined to only suspicious criminal activity. Though this would be better than the previous guidelines for data collection, the policy is weaker than the coalition’s suggested reforms—completely ending the relationship with fusion centers—and the Police Review Commission’s proposal of only charged criminal activity to be reported.
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June 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm
Only an election cycle ago, candidate Barack Obama advocated for institutional changes to the criminal justice system in order to combat racial inequality in America. Now, just a mere three years later, President Obama and his cohorts have undermined, ignored, and swept under the rug reform efforts to the criminal justice system.
Despite a campaign promise to push for a federal anti-racial profiling law, his administration has remained silent on the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), which would define and prohibit racial and religious profiling by police.
Ironically, the Bush Administration supported ERPA up until 9/11 – when he and his fellows nonsensically decided that racial profiling was a key tool for law enforcement. ERPA was reintroduced into Congress last year, but no action was taken on it. This year, the Senate held their first hearing on racial profiling since 9/11 (which Obama’s ‘Justice’ Department declined to testify at) that included discussion on ERPA which has yet to be introduced into Congress this year.
Meanwhile, cases of racial injustice continue to occur: Trayvon Martin, Henry Louis Gates, stop and frisk in New York and as reported by the Sentencing Project, “more than 60% of people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities.”
Not only has it ignored reform efforts, the Obama Administration has also expanded unjust laws and programs in our legal system. President Obama has continued and grown so called counter-terrorism policies that negatively affect Muslim, South Asian and Middle Eastern communities. The profiling of these communities by the NYPD revealed by several Associated Press reports earlier this year, is based off of and replicated from polices of federal agencies such as the FBI.
The “Obama administration’s support for profiling is becoming transparent,” said Human Rights Watch Advocacy Director Antonio Ginatta in an op-ed. “The Obama administration…has displayed a lack of interest in changing Justice Department rules on religious profiling.”
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June 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm
Realizing the severe impact the use of torture had on their local community, Chicago residents and advocates succeeded this past year in securing a city-wide declaration against the use of torture by law enforcement and military forces.
The action was spurred by the torture of hundreds black men by Chicago police commander Jon Burge and his officers. Additionally, many people wanted to speak out against the US treatment of prisoners abroad at places like Guantanamo, Bagram, and the clandestine CIA black spots.
In January 2012, the Chicago City Council unanimously passed the Chicago anti-torture resolution. The Illinois Coalition Against Torture (ICAT) – a collaboration of individuals and organizations that spearheaded the campaign – recently released a How To Guide for individuals who are interested in launching similar efforts in their own communities.
As individuals like Jose Rodriguez continue to espouse claims on the effectiveness of torture and government officials like John Yoo walk free despite their key role in implementing the use of torture, it is important for communities and individuals to vehemently rebuke such rhetoric.
Torture “is morally corrupting of society as a whole,” said Linda Gustitus, president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in a recent op-ed. ”It violates the most fundamental values of a civilized world that each person must be treated as having worth and dignity or we risk the worth and dignity of us all.”
June is Torture Awareness Month. Now is a perfect time to take a stand against torture, whether that be through promoting important federal legislation, by starting an accountability campaign, or both. To ensure the “worth and dignity of us all” we must replace the voices of torture apologists with those who realize the cruel and inhumane practice torture truly is.
May 31, 2012 at 3:02 pm
First piloting massive biometric data collection from immigrant communities through deportation programs such as Secure Communities (S-COMM), the FBI is moving forward with its Next Generation Identification (NGI) initiative that will expand these practices nationwide and be fully operational by 2014. A recent report, by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Immigration Policy Council, highlights the affects biometric collection has had on immigrant communities thus far, and shines a light on the future plans and impacts.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) collects a whopping 300,000 fingerprints everyday at US borders, according to the report. To increase this number, agencies have increased ther emphasis on collecting biometrics ”in the field,” equipping police departments with portable fingerprint devices (often times as part of officers’ IPhone or BlackBerry). Any person stopped — even without being arrested or booked — can be subject to police recording their fingerprintsof.
Police departments are also receiving Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System (MORIS), which can collect face or iris images from several feet away.
The FBI’s face recognition program is set to be fully operational nationwide by 2014. Facial recognition is problematic on two fronts: one, a successful match depends on many variables (time elapsed since photo was taken, lighting, picture quality, etc.) and mistaken identity is quite likely.
Second, with the expansion of private and public cameras covering US streets, business and roadways, the likeliness of ending up in a facial recognition database is very high. The report argues that this could lead to guilt by association and encourage racial profiling.
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May 25, 2012 at 9:17 pm
As Americans continue to vocalize the importance of online privacy, the FBI has requested for Congress to amend the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to allow the FBI to mandate social media sites and other communication devices to provide “back door” access into their users’ accounts.
Essentially, “peer-to-peer” networks such as Facebook, Skype, FaceTime, AIM, Google Chat, and so on, would be required to rewrite their software to provide the FBI a path of access to all activity done or associated with a user. Communication devices such as iPhones and other smartphones would also be required to have a way to decrypt messages sent on them.
The installation of monitoring systems on sites like Facebook is potentially far more dangerous than the normal surveillance method of tapping phones. To many, Facebook serves as a daily journal, chock full of sensitive information; people post about their work, political and social beliefs, consumer preferences, family happenings, and their everyday behaviors.
The FBI would still be required to have a warrant to enable these monitoring systems, but under the notoriously rights-abusive FBI Director Robert Mueller, this should give little comfort to anyone. The FBI’s ongoing record illustrates its complete disregard for constitutional rights.
Perhaps most troublesome is how this amendment could fall into the FBI’s plan to expand its facial recognition database. Facebook has millions of pictures on it and video forms of communication, like FaceTime and Skype, could also be used for voice and face recognition datasets.
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May 18, 2012 at 11:25 am
The Berkeley City Council postponed a vote Tuesday night after dozens of residents spoke in favor of proposed measures to curb domestic surveillance, stop militaristic police programs, and promote immigrant and First Amendment rights.
The proposals have been championed by the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, a diverse group including leaders of several local organizations advised by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and supported by councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin. If ultimately enacted, the coalition’s proposals will place several limits on the Berkeley Police Department (BPD).
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May 17, 2012 at 8:02 am
The legacy of weak racial profiling reforms continued in Connecticut this week, when the State House of Representatives passed bill No. 364, an act that allows Connecticut police departments to easily dodge participation from anti-racial profiling programs.
Changes to the state’s main racial profiling law, the Alvin V. Penn Act, have been championed in recent years by the Connecticut Civil Rights Coalition (CCRC), a group of organizations and individuals brought together by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Passed over ten years ago, the Penn Act was designed to require local and state police in Connecticut to record the perceived race, ethnicity, color, age and gender of any person they stopped for a traffic violation. Police departments were then to submit traffic stop data and any complaints of discrimination they received as an effort to increase transparency and create accountability. However, as the Act was always given abysmal funding and there has been no requirement to implement it statewide, the law has had virtually no effect.
In light of the high profile New Haven racial profiling case, both the Connecticut House of Representatives and State Senate approved bill No. 364, which they claim will end racial profiling by giving teeth to preexisting laws.
Yet the bill’s sole accomplishment is that oversight power on how the bill is enforced will be transferred to the better equipped Office of Policy and Management (OPM), as well as the Criminal Justice Information System Governing Board. The OPM would also have a special advisory board to deal specifically with racial profiling matters.
However, the bill would exempt police departments from all of the law’s requirements if the OPM do not provide the traffic stop forms. As these forms are already in existence and the process of distributing them is fairly simple, it makes no sense why exemptions are needed. One possible reason: this is just another ploy for the state to avoid accountability around police profiling.
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A non-partisan group of 40 military generals and admirals endorsed the proposed Smith-Amash amendment which would roll back some of the most harmful aspects of the indefinte detention provsions of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The indefinite detention and mandatory military custody provisions passed into law in the Fiscal Year 2012 NDAA will do more harm than good,” the military leaders stated in a letter to Congress this Wednesday. “The Smith-Amash Amendment, if passed into law, would be an important first step towards reversing this damage.”
Enacted just this year, the NDAA codifies into law the indefinite detention of any person who is accused of terrorist activity. Representatives Adam Smith (D-Wash) and Justin Amash (R-Mich) introduced an amendment to the NDAA of 2013 that would guarantee any person in the US the right to a charge, trial, and attorney, whether or not they are suspected of terrorist activity. Smith presented his proposed amendments to the Senate Committee on the Armed Forces, which he chairs.
In their letter, the retired leaders stressed the importance of the amendment succeeding:
“[S]ound national security policy depends on faithful adherence to the rule of law. Though it is lawful for the military to detain those engaged in hostilities in an armed conflict, the armed forces should not supplant our law enforcement and intelligence agencies at home. Those detained in the U.S. should not be held indefinitely without charge or trial or forced into military custody. Within the United States, those accused of terrorism crimes should face charges in a civilian court, consistent with our constitutional values.”
“The indefinite detention and mandatory military custody provisions passed into law in the Fiscal Year 2012 NDAA will do more harm than good. The Smith-Amash Amendment, if passed into law, would be an important first step towards reversing this damage.”
The proposed Smith-Amash amendment still faces formidable opposition from supporters of the detention provisions — but several sources of hope are emerging.
Not only have senior retired military leaders raised their voices, but on Wednesday, a federal judge issued a ruling enjoining the NDAA’s detention provisions from going into effect. Originally filed on behalf of journalists including Chris Hedges, the suit argued that the provisions violate the Constitution on its face, even if they have yet to be applied to anyone. BORDC supported the suit as an amicus, but also recognizes that the ruling remains vulnerable on appeal — which is precisely why the grassroots echo chamber resonating around the country is so important to the debate.
Our constitutional rights may yet take a turn for the better.