Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

Warning against the danger of criminalizing provocative Facebook postings

Monday, September 8, 2014 at 1:00 pm by

dislikeWeighing in on a case that will significantly impact expression on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who was charged with making unlawful threats (it was never proven that he intended to threaten anyone) and sentenced to 44 months in jail after he posted allusions to popular song lyrics and comedy routines on his Facebook page.

The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Anthony D. Elonis v. United States of America argues that the First Amendment protects even inflammatory statements that may give offense or cause concern to others unless the statements were a credible threat to engage in violence against another and made by the defendant with the intent to cause fear in the alleged victim. The case arises out of Facebook postings made by Anthony Elonis expressing his anger about events in his life, and which were based upon rap lyrics of artists such as Eminem and a comedy sketch of the group The Whitest Kids U’ Know. (more…)

Government spying on the peace movement (Part I)

Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm by

The fight against government repression of free speech suffered a setback in Washington State this month, as a judicial ruling in the Panagacos vs. Towery case turned a blind eye to government infiltration of peaceful activist groups. The decision reflects not only the latest failure by the federal judiciary to do its job, but also a disturbing history dating back decades, and over five years in this particular case of constitutional abuses by intelligence and police agencies, as well as the US military.

In July 2009, activists in Olympia, WA went public with the shocking revelation that an intelligence contractor hired by the U.S. Army named John Towery had infiltrated the antiwar group Olympia Port Militarization resistance.

For almost two years, Towery — known to activists by a false name, “John Jacob” — had administered the group’s email listserv, attended meetings and demonstrations and unsuccessfully attempted to coerce young college students to commit acts of violence. Towery’s true identity was discovered by several members of the group after cop-watcher Drew Hendricks combed through thousands of pages of public records using a technique known as “cataloging”.

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NSA? The Postal Service is watching you, too

Monday, June 23, 2014 at 2:05 pm by

With the ongoing debate about mass spying by the NSA, many Americans are reconsidering their reliance on telephone and electronic communications. But is it safe to trust the US Postal Service (USPS)? You may not want to know….

In 2013, the Postal Inspection Service processed tens of thousands of mail covers, and also “photograph[ed] the exterior of every piece of paper mail” processed by the USPS through the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program revealed last year.

Last July, the New York Times explained that “Snail mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.”

A Postal Service Inspector General report released last month suggests that even the more restrained mail cover program should raise concerns.

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Redacted Tonight features BORDC’s Shahid Buttar on NSA spying

Monday, June 2, 2014 at 8:39 am by

This past Friday, RT premiered a new news comedy program, Redacted Tonight. The program’s inaugural episode featured BORDC’s Shahid Buttar, who explained some shortcomings of the USA Freedom Act that recently passed the House, before later encouraging his interviewer’s lyrical creativity.

House committees take first step to reform NSA

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:36 am by

Last week, the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees approved a bill that would begin the process of restoring constitutional limits to dragnet government surveillance. While a praiseworthy step in the right direction, the progress to date remains both entirely too slow, and deferential to the intelligence agencies.

Congress should immediately pass the USA FREEDOM Act, and then get back to work to pass the further restrictions on NSA spying necessary to render it compliant with the First and Fourth amendments.

A limited reform package

Several observers have noted various ways in which the bill passed out of the committees last week leaves a great deal to be desired. The House committees watered down the bill’s provisions before approving it, undermining its ability to meaningfully restrain government spying.

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Racial profiling, Muslim surveillance, and the NYPD

Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 10:28 am by

NYPDOn Tuesday, April 15 the New York City Police Department (NYPD) announced it was disbanding a controversial unit that had been spying on Muslims since its inception in 2003. The NYPD’s “Demographics Unit” specifically gathered intelligence on Muslims living in New York City, New Jersey, and even as far away as Philadelphia. It sent plain clothed detectives to cafes, restaurants, and other community centers frequented by Muslims with the stated purpose of identifying potential centers of terrorist activity. Detectives were told to speak with the employees at such establishments about political issues in attempt to identify anti American sentiment. The NYPD also sent informants to Muslim student groups on various college campuses. Despite the wide breadth of surveillance, even the NYPD acknowledged that the program has failed to create a single lead.
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Fusion centers perpetuate racial profiling

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 8:50 am by

racialprofilingApril 10 saw protests, teach-ins and light brigade actions across the country as part of the national day of action against fusion centers. The Day of Action sparked an internet dialogue about fusion centers that shone much needed light on the centers which can often slip under the radar of the communities they operate in.

Like most threats to civil liberties, fusion centers endanger the constitutional rights guaranteed to all people, however their effect is most pronounced in politically vulnerable communities. These are most often communities of color, those with political beliefs outside the mainstream, or both.

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When the NSA & universities collaborate: a discussion with leading privacy experts at Johns Hopkins University

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 10:17 am by

bca8e39ceOn Tuesday, April 15, BORDC executive director, Shahid Buttar, spoke on a panel with privacy experts, Christopher Soghoian, ACLU Technologist, Matt Green and Joel Andreas, Johns Hopkins University professors, to discuss ways the intelligence community has begun to co-opt our higher education system. Each year the NSA gives millions of dollars to universities around the country in the form of scholarships, research grants, training, technology, and promises of jobs to students. This degree of influence and the bias it creates is concerning, particularly in the way the issues of mass surveillance is addressed and responded to on these campuses. Below is video from the evening’s discussion.
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Missouri law embodies spirit of Fourth Amendment

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 at 10:46 am by

missouri-sealMissouri is laying out the law plain and simple: there will be no warrantless searches of electronic data and communications in their state. On April 3, the Missouri Senate passed legislation that would give electronic data and communications the same Fourth Amendment protections as “persons, houses, papers, or effects.”
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Free Speech, RIP: A Relic of the American Past

Monday, March 3, 2014 at 11:06 am by

Original commentary by John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute on March 3, 2014.

free_speechLiving in a representative republic means that each person has the right to take a stand for what they think is right, whether that means marching outside the halls of government, wearing clothing with provocative statements, or simply holding up a sign. That’s what the First Amendment is supposed to be about.

Unfortunately, as I show in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American  Police State, through a series of carefully crafted legislative steps and politically expedient court rulings, government officials have managed to disembowel this fundamental freedom, rendering it with little more meaning than the right to file a lawsuit against government officials. In fact, if the following court rulings are anything to go by, the First Amendment has, for all intents and purposes, become an exercise in futility.

On February 26, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 9-0 ruling, held that anti-nuclear activist John Denis Apel could be prosecuted for staging a protest on a public road at an Air Force base, free speech claims notwithstanding, because the public road is technically government property.
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