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Constitution in Crisis

February 2012, Vol. 11, No. 2


In this issue:

Undoing the damage: Transpartisan alliances and grassroots action could repeal the NDAA’s detention provisions

BORDC News

Grassroots News

Law and Policy

New Resources and Opportunities


 

Undoing the damage: Transpartisan alliances and grassroots action could repeal the NDAA’s detention provisions

NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act)The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which President Obama signed into law on the last day of 2011, may be the worst threat to civil liberties since COINTELPRO. It gives the government the power to presume guilt rather than innocence, and indefinitely imprison anyone accused of a "belligerent act" or terror-related offense without trial. Because federal agencies have investigated—and successfully prosecuted—First Amendment-protected political speech as material support for terrorism, the NDAA could allow future presidents to arrest their political critics. Few powers could be more offensive to our nation’s constitutional tradition.

But perhaps the silver lining on this very dark cloud is the widespread concern the law has prompted, uniting Americans from across the political spectrum in efforts to restore due process and the right to trial.

Just days after the NDAA became law, several members of Congress—from both major parties—introduced bills to repeal or revise the NDAA’s detention provisions. And national days of action against the NDAA—including one on Bill of Rights Day (December 15) and another earlier this month—have prompted protests across the US that included libertarians, progressives, Tea Party members, and Occupy participants.

State and local governments are also standing up for their constituents’ rights: state legislators in Virginia, Tennessee, and Washington have introduced bills to block the participation of state agencies in detention operations authorized by the NDAA. Several other states are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks, and local resolutions rejecting the NDAA are moving in cities from Northampton, MA (where the city council will vote February 16), and Albany County, NY, to cities and towns up and down the West Coast. Meanwhile, cities in the Midwest including Chicago, IL, and Minneapolis, MN, are considering "torture-free city" resolutions that could address the recurrence of torture likely under the military detention regime expanded by the NDAA.

There has been a constitutional crisis in the US over the past decade, and the NDAA only makes it worse. But it need not spell the end of democracy in America. If We the People can set aside our differences and come together to stand up for our most basic freedoms, we can take back our rights. Will you stand with us to restore due process?

BORDC News

Tim Smith elected as vice president of BORDC's board of directors

Tim Smith A long time BORDC supporter and founder of a BORDC chapter in Tacoma (WA), Tim Smith joined our board of directors in May 2011. This month, the board is pleased to announce that he has been elected to the newly created role of vice president.

In addition to his longtime civil liberties activism, Tim is also a veteran, having served as a US Army chief warrant officer specializing in military intelligence. As we mentioned in 2010, when we honored Tim with the BORDC Patriot Award:

Although protecting constitutional rights is a national concern, Tim believes that the most effective activism takes place at a local level: "It is important to work with local municipalities and challenge what is happening in our own cities." These small-scale steps build the capacity for national change.

We are proud to work closely with Tim and congratulate him on his election as vice president of our board of directors.

Vince Warren joins advisory board

Vince WarrenVincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), has joined the Bill of Rights Defense Committee’s advisory board. CCR is a national legal and educational organization based in New York City dedicated to advancing and defending the rights guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Vince oversees CCR's litigation and advocacy work, including efforts to hold federal officials accountable for human rights abuses, bring transparency to the expanding surveillance regime, and secure protections against ethnic profiling and police violence. Vince is also an accomplished jazz drummer who frequently performs in the New York area.

CCR’s groundbreaking work includes the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) investigation that revealed the FBI’s disturbing Next Generation Initiative (NGI). NGI was cloaked in secrecy until CCR, along with the National Day Laborers Organizing Network and an immigration law clinic at Cardozo Law School in New York, brought a lawsuit exposing FBI and ICE files revealing plans for a national ID system based on fingerprints, iris scans, voice modulation, and other biometric data. NGI is a serious invasion of privacy, initially presented to the public as the misleadingly named Secure Communities program, a data-sharing initiative claiming to enhance immigration enforcement. However, the FBI’s goal is to expand the biometric identification system to all Americans.

BORDC is thankful for all of CCR’s tremendous work and honored to welcome Vince to our advisory board.

BORDC in the news

The Connecticut Civil Rights Coalition, one of numerous local civil rights restoration efforts supported by BORDC, appeared in the news in late January, as the entire state was rocked by federal arrests of several East Haven police officers on charges of racial profiling. The coalition held a press conference covered by several major news outlets.

Meanwhile, blog contributor Farid Zakaria helped bring attention to FBI abuses, by co-authoring "The FBI spied on me and then lied about it" with Shakeel Syed from the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California:

This case had established that something very serious and worrisome had happened: the government deliberately lied to us and to the court….

During the hearings, Judge Cormac J. Carney said, "[this is] the most significant case in my career. I just found it startling and surprising that there was a memorandum from the attorney general saying that they can deceive the American people." Judge Carney added, "Is it not that when democracies perish, when the government starts lying?"

Unlike for Judge Carney, for me, this has been not only a significant legal experience, but also a frightening episode in my personal and family life. Knowing that the FBI was spying on us has had a tremendous impact on my family. My 14-year-old son once asked if what he learns at school about rights and liberties was nothing but theory….he then asked, "Is this really America?"

Finally, while corporate media sources generally failed to report on the detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) when they were debated in Congress, the widespread furor the law has inspired has prompted some news outlets to cover these vital issues. Among them was In These Times, which also featured BORDC’s national grassroots campaign to restore due process:

According to Shahid Buttar, Executive Director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), several localities across the country are already considering moves similar to El Paso County's.

BORDC has begun coordinating and assisting grassroots efforts in communities across the country that aim to push back against the newly passed law. "The NDAA may have passed, but grassroots opportunities abound to restore due process and the right to trial," said Buttar in an e-mail exchange with In These Times. The organization has already begun providing a series of resources to grassroots organizers including a draft model resolution, suggested talking points and action models and support for those coordinating local campaigns.

BORDC's Shahid Buttar to speak in Hartford, New York, Dallas, St. Louis, and Chicago

Shahid Buttar in DCOver the past month, in addition to speaking out against the NDAA’s detention provisions in various media outlets, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar has addressed several live audiences in the mid-Atlantic and New England. Events in Washington, DC, included a forum at Martin Luther King Jr. Library on January 15 sponsored by the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, as well as a January 20 rally at the Supreme Court (see photo) marking the anniversary of the Citizens United decision, which was sponsored by Move to Amend and Occupy the Courts. Buttar also spoke at events at the University of Maryland on February 2 and a Muslim community center in Silver Spring, MD, on February 5. In New England, Buttar visited Vermont Law School in Royalton on January 24, the Preserving Our Civil Rights campaign in Northampton, MA, on January 26, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in Cambridge, MA, on January 27.

In the coming month, Buttar will travel to Hartford, New York City, Dallas, St. Louis, and Chicago to raise awareness about civil liberties issues. He will address audiences at a statewide convening in Connecticut on February 18, Texas Wesleyan Law School on February 23, Southern Methodist University on February 24, a grassroots event in Dallas on February 25, and the University of Texas at Dallas on February 27. Buttar will also visit Fordham Law School on March 5 and the Occupy the Midwest conference in St. Louis on March 15, and deliver the keynote address at a public interest law symposium at Loyola University Chicago School of Law on March 16.

Get the latest news and analysis on our blog

Recent highlights from the People's Blog for the Constitution:

 

Grassroots News

Patriot Award: Naji Mujahid

Naji MujahidEach month, BORDC recognizes an individual who has done outstanding work in support of civil liberties and the rule of law by honoring that person with our Patriot Award. This month, we honor Naji Mujahid from Washington, DC, for his work to protect civil rights and to hold law enforcement accountable.

Naji's entry to activism came as a member of the Masjid Al-Islam in southeast Washington, DC. Later, he blossomed as an intern with the DC Radio Co-op, producing content for the weekly WPFW radio program Voices With Vision. His first assignment was to cover the case of the San Francisco 8, and he has continued to spotlight stories of injustice throughout his work on the radio. In 2007, he produced and narrated a documentary telling the story of Troy Davis, who was later executed in 2011 despite evidence proving his innocence. With exposure to the plight of political prisoners in the US, Naji became an impassioned advocate and joined the Jericho Movement. According to Naji, "the issue of political imprisonment is crucial to all of our movements. So long as activists can be targeted, attacked, and imprisoned for their work in protecting our liberties and communities, we can consider ourselves unsafe."

As an established activist in Washington, DC, Naji developed a relationship with BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar and began working with the organization after obtaining an internship grant through his university. During his time with BORDC, Naji went above and beyond typical intern duties. When Metro police were caught on tape throwing a homeless, wheelchair-bound man to the ground, Naji took initiative to organize a diverse coalition to address the incident.

Regarding the first meeting, Naji remarks, "I knew 85 percent of the people there, but I had never seen all of them in the same room. It was powerful to see them get past all of their ideological differences and unite around a cause." The group began to meet regularly and soon established the DC Coalition to Police the Police. Though the objective had been to address this one incident, the victim, Dwight Harris, did not want the group to pursue his case, so the coalition decided to confront the broader issue of police brutality. They hosted "Know Your Rights" workshops in the community and encouraged people to take action as bystanders. Though the organization’s activity has waned in recent months, it has been a critical resource for the community and has also assisted Dwight Howard’s friend in filing a civil lawsuit against the police. After developing many relationships through this coalition, Naji was approached to become vice chair of the NAACP's criminal justice working group in DC, which plays a similar role as a police watchdog and has offered rights trainings in the area.

Following his BORDC internship, Naji took his advocacy work to Capitol Hill as an intern for Representative Danny Davis (D-IL). A year earlier, Rep. Davis had proposed the Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act, which imposes a criminal penalty on law enforcement officials who commit or plan to commit acts of torture. After discussion with Rep. Davis, Naji proposed changes to last year’s bill and brought together organizations to support its reintroduction, including the people's Law Office in Chicago, National Lawyers Guild's National Police Accountability Project in Boston, the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, and the American Friends Service Committee. Thanks to Naji's efforts, the bill was recently the subject of a congressional hearing and awaits further action.

In addition to Naji's advocacy in the community, he operates DC North Star Productions , a small business offering videography services that produced BORDC's "The unPATRIOTic Act and COINTELPRO 2.0" video. While balancing activism with work, school, and a family is a challenge, Naji remains committed to the cause and says, "These problems aren’t going to fix themselves."

For other activists, Naji advises "a balance between radicalism and practicalism. This is the barometer between going too far and not going far enough." He notes that when it comes to building a grassroots movement, "Everyone has something to contribute." Naji has certainly contributed in a variety of ways to uphold the Bill of Rights, and we salute his efforts.

Day of action against the NDAA sees events across the country

Opponents of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) gathered at congressional offices across the country for a national day of action on February 3.

Terri and Jim protest NDAAFrom Louisville, KY:

Occupy Louisville protested Senator Mitch McConnell's support of the National Defense Authorization Act [NDAA] today outside the Gene Snyder Federal Courthouse on West Broadway with a demonstration they called "Occupy Mitch McConnell". Senator McConnell earned Occupy's undivided attention because both of Louisville's other two federal representatives, Senator Rand Paul and Congressman John Yarmuth, voted against the bill because of controversial provisions that many believe could lead to egregious civil rights abuses.

Activists performed street theater in Rockford, IL, and organized actions in Austin, TX. In Patchogue, NY, protesters visited a local congressional office (see photo), and thousands of miles away, activists in San Diego made their voices heard.

Coalitions in other cities around the country, including Chicago, Portland, OR, and Augusta, ME, participated in the day of action.

Northampton, MA: Coalition challenges the NDAA's detention provisions

On January 25, the Human Rights Commission of Northampton, MA, approved a resolution to restore due process protections violated by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The next day, on January 26, the BORDC-backed Preserving Our Civil Rights (PCR) campaign hosted a panel discussion at a local church.

Joined by BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar, the panel also featured Chris Pyle, former counsel to the Church Committee and now a politics professor at Mount Holyoke College, as well as Northampton Human Rights Commissioner Emily Odgers, a BORDC Patriot Award honoree. Attendees—who included adolescents, senior citizens, and all ages in between—discussed the potential harms of arbitrary detention and domestic military deployment, and also mobilized to take action in their community.

The Northampton City Council—which, on May 2, 2002, became one of the first in the nation to adopt a resolution opposing the USA PATRIOT Act—is expected to vote on February 16 whether to adopt a resolution to restore due process and reject the NDAA’s detention provisions.

In the meantime, the campaign continues to build grassroots support for a civil rights ordinance addressing surveillance and profiling, modeled on BORDC's Local Civil Rights Restoration Act. The campaign has also expanded to nearby Amherst, MA, where organizers are promoting civil rights reforms to protect the rights of immigrants.

Connecticut: Coalition to host convening to oppose indefinite detention

On Saturday, February 18, a diverse coalition of organizations from across Connecticut will convene in Berlin, CT, to address civil liberties leaders concerned about the indefinite detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which President Obama signed into law at the end of 2011.

The convening will bring together more than 30 leaders from across the state to strategize about a statewide response to the NDAA. Co-sponsors include the ACLU of Connecticut, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Connecticut, the National Lawyers Guild Connecticut Chapter, and the Greater New Haven Peace Council.

Several members of the Connecticut Civil Rights Coalition—brought together by BORDC—will speak, including Sandra Staub from the ACLU and Hartford City Councilor Luis Cotto, as well as BORDC’s Shahid Buttar.

East Haven, CT: DOJ arrests police, prompting new calls for statewide profiling protections

USA - CT - Town of East Haven Police (very old style)The US Department of Justice alleged in a January 18 indictment that three East Haven police officers and one sergeant engaged in a pattern and practice of racial profiling and harassment of Latino residents; the four were arrested on January 24. Following the arrests, the Connecticut Civil Rights Coalition, which BORDC helped organize, hosted a press conference pointing to the East Haven example as an illustration of broader problems. The coalition called for the state to enact reforms to address them.

In particular, the coalition wants the legislature to amend the Alvin W. Penn Act, first enacted in 1999 to require documentation of the racial impact of traffic stops. While the Penn Act was promising at the time, it has always been underinclusive (for instance, it does not address stop-and-frisks of pedestrians) and has never been adequately enforced. Efforts to reform and enforce the bill on the state level failed last year, but the Connecticut Civil Rights Coalition argues that had those efforts prevailed—or had the Penn Act been enforced in the first place—the East Haven debacle could have been avoided.

Washington, DC: Nation’s capital considers limiting cooperation with federal requests

Last month, the DC City Council heard testimony from a diverse coalition of community organizations, including BORDC, supporting a measure to impose limits on voluntary compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests. These requests have created widespread fear within the Latino community, discouraging victims and witnesses of crime from cooperating with law enforcement and thus endangering public safety. At the same time, voluntary compliance with ICE detainers has drained the District’s budget. If the city council passes the measure, Washington could become the next in a growing list of cities and towns taking action to restore the civil rights by protecting their residents from federal abuses, including a disturbing FBI and ICE plan to create a biometric national identification system for all Americans.

In spite of the federal government’s plans to make the controversial and misleadingly named Secure Communities program (S-COMM) mandatory by 2013, local jurisdictions around the country are taking action to protect their residents. S-COMM, in which local police departments share fingerprint data on those they arrest with federal agencies including ICE and FBI, has denied due process to hundreds of thousands, including many US citizens mistakenly detained or, in some cases, even deported. In addition, recently exposed FBI documents reveal that the FBI and ICE intend to use S-COMM as a starting point towards creating a mandatory biometric national identification system—using bodies themselves, rather than ID cards—without public debate.

Following the lead of Santa Clara, CA, and Cook County, IL, the nation’s capital is now considering legislation to limit its cooperation with ICE. The Immigration Detainer Compliance Act of 2011, co-introduced by all 13 members of the DC City Council in November, requires the federal government to enforce its own immigration laws by limiting compliance with ICE’s detainer requests.

Although the current bill makes great strides in standing up to ICE abuses, it could do more. When S-COMM is fully enacted, detainer requests will be made not just to local jails but also to police agencies. Accordingly, the local coalition seeks to expand of the bill’s scope to apply to not only the Department of Corrections, but also the Metro Police Department. BORDC’s Shahid Buttar testified in favor of the change:

[ICE’s] betrayal of public trust will predictably erode community relations with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), unless the Council extends the protections embodied in the current version of the Immigration Detainer Compliance Amendment Act to include the MPD. Local jails are certainly the tip of the spear, but ICE also submits detainer requests to police agencies. The expanding roll out of S-COMM, in spite of widespread civil rights concerns, threatens to expand this pipeline and further embroil the MPD in the controversy surrounding our nation’s immigration policy—but the Council can prevent that from happening by expanding the set of institutions covered by the Act.

We should applaud the District of Columbia for attempting to advance civil rights in the face of federal abuses, but further changes are necessary to ensure that DC residents retain their due process rights.

Asheville, NC: Vote expected on surveillance and profiling reforms

On Monday, February 13, BORDC’s George Friday will be in Asheville, NC, for trivia night at the monthly Civil Liberties Monday at Firestorm Café. Later this month, local organizers anticipate a vote in the Asheville City Council on proposed civil liberties and civil rights reforms. The measure would limit dragnet surveillance and intelligence collection by local police and create measures to stop and prevent profiling according to race, religion, national origin, or ideology.

The grassroots coalition in Asheville is working to inform residents about the specific provisions of their proposed policy, modeled on BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration campaign. Their efforts include a series of public events, including Civil Liberties Monday and other community events in various Asheville neighborhoods over the course of this month. Organizers also hope to celebrate the approval of the new local reforms to restore civil rights and civil liberties at their annual Stand Against Racism event in late April.

Greensboro, NC: Mobilization for civil rights condemns FBI abuses

On Thursday, February 9, the Beloved Community Center hosted a group of Greensboro, NC, leaders for a weekly round table to discuss civil liberties concerns and opportunities for community education. On Saturday, February 11, thousands marched outside the state legislature to express their support for civil liberties and concerns about rights violations committed by agencies including the local police and FBI.

Historic Thousands on Jones StreetA community leader remarked that Latino, Muslim, and South Asian communities have been intimidated by recent attacks on the Latin Kings and Queens in Greensboro and several Muslim families in Raleigh. Students from Guilford College and North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University attended the meeting, and several expressed disappointment that local elected officials had remained silent. Ultimately, the entire group agreed to collaborate on a public education campaign.

The students will organize education events on their campuses and neighborhood forums at community libraries. In addition, a countywide forum later this spring, co-sponsored by the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, will bring together faith leaders. These various educational events will share three primary topics: the aggressive role of federal agencies in monitoring people, the threat that surveillance and infiltration pose to activism and dissent, and the opportunity for local policy reforms to restore constitutional rights eroded by decisions in Washington.

On Saturday, February 11, thousands gathered for the sixth annual "Historic Thousands on Jones Street" march and rally, at which North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber called for community support of individuals targeted by the FBI. Thousands filled the lawn outside of the state legislature, pledging to work for a better way to keep communities safe and secure. BORDC’s George Friday (see photo) joined Rev. Barber, NAACP’s National President Ben Jealous, and more than a dozen other speakers from North Carolina at the event, which will be followed by days of action in April.

Chicago, IL: Local resolution would create America’s first "torture-free city"

Last month, the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Human Relations endorsed a resolution to make Chicago the nation’s first "torture-free city." The movement to secure the resolution cited not only the federal government’s failure to hold any senior government officials accountable for the Bush administration’s torture policies, but also a history of torture by police officers in Chicago.

Former police commander Jon Burge, who ran a vigilante operation on Chicago’s South Side that tortured hundreds of African-American men into false confessions over the course of 20 years, is currently serving a prison sentence. But, due to gaps in the law, Burge escaped prosecution for torture and was instead convicted only of lying about it.

At the January 12 commission hearing, DePaul law professor and UN war crimes investigator Cherif Bassiouni noted that torture is an international crime for which states are required to prosecute any credible allegations. Alderman Joe Moore noted that "We are complicit if we stand by while torture happens," while attorney Flint Taylor from the People’s Law Office noted that torture has cost the city more than $53 million, and hundreds of victims have spent years of their lives in prison for offenses they did not commit.

Meanwhile, a bill partly inspired by Chicago law’s failure to criminalize Burge’s torture program, the Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act, was the subject of a congressional briefing on January 17. Co-sponsored by several members of Congress representing Chicago, including Reps. Danny Davis (D-IL), Bobby Rush (D-IL), and Luis Guitierrez (D-IL), the bill would extend the statute of limitations to better enforce the global prohibition on torture established following World War II.

San Francisco, CA: Coalition celebrates reform proposal to reign in local surveillance

Coalition for Safe San FranciscoIn the past month, the Coalition for a Safe San Francisco (of which BORDC is a member) celebrated the introduction of the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance in the city’s Board of Supervisors. The measure would limit intelligence gathering by the San Francisco Police Department, whose participation with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has long flouted local and state laws—some of which were imposed in response to prior SFPD intelligence abuses. The ordinance requires reasonable suspicion of significant criminal activity before law enforcement can begin surveillance.

Sponsored by Supervisor Jane Kim, the measure aims to require the SFPD to comply with existing state and local laws on intelligence gathering, allow surveillance only in cases where there is individualized suspicion of criminal activity, and prevent ethnic or ideological profiling. According to John Crew at the Northern California ACLU, "It's important that a clear prohibition against policing based on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion applies to all of our officers, all of the time." Attorney Nasrina Bargzie of the Asian Law Caucus explained that the "legislation [would] restore local control, civilian oversight, and transparency over the SFPD's participation in FBI intelligence-gathering."

Transparency has been particularly lacking in San Francisco law enforcement. In the 1990s, a rogue SFPD intelligence officer and former CIA agent, Tom Gerard, not only collected intelligence about San Francisco residents’ First Amendment-protected activity, but also sold that information to the governments of South Africa and Israel. The resulting investigation ultimately led to the closure of the SFPD’s intelligence unit, whose abuses have recurred in the past decade, particularly through the department’s coordination with the FBI.

Local organizers praised the introduction of the legislation and will mobilize to support it in the coming weeks.

Berkeley, CA: Groups mobilize to limit local participation in fusion center

On February 14, the Berkeley City Council held a hearing on proposed revisions to agreements between the Berkeley Police Department and various other agencies, including the Northern California Regional Information Center (the local fusion center). Another agreement under review relates to the University of California police, which made national headlines for violently suppressing a student “Occupy Cal” encampment in the precise location where the student Free Speech Movement began 40 years before.

The Coalition for a Safe Berkeley includes a broad array of organizations recruited by BORDC and local allies, including the city’s Peace & Justice Commission, the NAACP of Berkeley, the ACLU, NLG, the National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights, and others. It supports the efforts of Councilor Jesse Arreguin and others to conduct meaningful oversight of the Berkeley Police Department, and has been mobilizing for several months to raise awareness about civil rights and civil liberties issues that the city could address locally.

Law and Policy

New revelations show even more surveillance by the NYPD

Friday prayer service in Foley SquareA recently released classified document dated May 15, 2006, reveals that the NYPD has been conducting widespread surveillance of New York-area mosques based entirely on religion, rather than individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. This document, which is just the latest revelation in a series of ongoing civil rights violations by the NYPD, details the increased police surveillance of Shia Muslim New Yorkers based solely on their religion, rather than any individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.

The leaked document, "US-Iran Conflict: The Threat to New York City," was sent to Police Commissioner Ray Kelley in 2006 and recommends that the NYPD "expand and focus intelligence collections at Shi'a mosques," as well as "identify leads of subjects of Iranian descent."

The NYPD’s interests stretched well beyond Persians in New York, however: "The Palestinian community, although not Shi'a, should also be assessed…." The document also suggests that the NYPD should monitor 12 Shiite mosques outside of New York City.

In response to disclosure of the document, more than 40 anti-discrimination organizations called for immediate action in a joint statement:

Through excessive stop and frisk practices, overzealous surveillance measures, and a complete lack of transparency, the NYPD has blatantly violated civil rights and destroyed the trust necessary for effective policing. Such acts of surveillance undermine trust between the Muslim community and the NYPD. These measures are merely the latest in the well-documented history of NYPD’s targeting of communities of color through discriminatory policing practices. The NYPD’s use of widespread ethnic, racial, and religious profiling is a threat to all Americans’ constitutional rights and freedoms. This behavior creates distrust and suspicion among all vulnerable communities and sends the message that law enforcement is not accountable for upholding the right of all Americans to be free from unwarranted police scrutiny. The NYPD should be focused on tracking down actual threats, not targeting innocent Americans for invasive investigations and surveillance.

The statement goes on to call for the NYPD to "acknowledge this wrongdoing, immediately cease all such activities, and create more transparency," as well as the for police commissioner Ray Kelly to resign.

"The actions by the NYPD are disgusting, but not surprising," said Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid in an interview with Democracy Now! "We’re not surprised at all. Those of us who are familiar with the history of the NYPD, we know that there has been a longstanding tension not just between the Muslim community, but between [the NYPD and all] communities of peoples of color here in New York City."

SOPA and PIPA: Freedom of speech survives the digital age…for now

stop SOPAThe latest assault on Internet privacy has failed, at least for the time being, after several members of Congress withdrew support from the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) in response to widespread online protests.

Entertainment industry organizations lobbied vigorously for SOPA and PIPA, arguing that foreign websites are taking advantage of the Internet to sell pirated music and films within the US. While online piracy may threaten intellectual property, and American film and music producers certainly deserve rewards for their creativity and innovation, SOPA and PIPA did more harm than good.

On the one hand, proponents of SOPA and PIPA were most concerned about foreign websites selling pirated content. On the other hand, the vague language of the bills would leave many popular sites, including Google and Wikipedia, susceptible to government interference while doing nothing to punish the individuals responsible for sharing copyrighted material in the first place.

In short, not only did SOPA and PIPA fail to address the primary problem of online piracy, but in failing they also infringed upon free speech. Perhaps the most disturbing power within SOPA and PIPA was the authority granted to the government to shut down a website without any advance notice.

Over the past several weeks, a rising tide of online dissent emerged to challenge the fast track approval process that the Senate Judiciary Committee had set out for these bills. On January 18, the movement crested as major websites including Wikipedia and Reddit participated in a coordinated "blackout" to protest what Wikipedia called "legislation that could fatally damage the free and open internet."

While policymakers seem confident that online piracy can be resolved through legislation, this view reflects a naïve oversimplification of the crisis at hand. As Forbes contributor Paul Tassi points out,

Legislation is not the answer. Piracy is already illegal in the US, and most places around the world, yet it persists underground, but more often in plain sight. Short of passing a law that allows the actual blacklisting of websites in China and Iran, there is no legislative solution. That’s what SOPA and PIPA were attempting to do, but it so obviously trampled on the First Amendment, it was laughed out of existence as the entire internet protested it.

FBI suspicious of Internet users concerned about privacy

Internet cafeThe Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a flier suggesting that seeking privacy on the Internet should be treated, and reported to authorities, as suspicious behavior. The document, titled Communities Against Terrorism: Potential Indicators of Terrorist Activities Related to Internet Café, is intended to provide guidelines for identifying potential terror suspects.

Some of the items indicated should reasonably arouse suspicion in an appropriate context, such as the purchase of chemicals and acids online. Other items, however, indicate that ordinary behavior—like shielding a computer screen in a public place, paying in cash, or looking at maps and photos of sporting venues—should be reported as suspicious. Public Intelligence explains in more detail:

The "Potential Indicators of Terrorist Activities" contained in the flyer are not to be construed alone as a sign of terrorist activity and the document notes that "just because someone’s speech, actions, beliefs, appearance, or way of life is different; it does not mean that he or she is suspicious." However, many of the activities described in the document are basic practices of any individual concerned with security or privacy online. The use of PGP, VPNs, Tor or any of the many other technologies for anonymity and privacy online are directly targeted by the flyer, which is distributed to businesses in an effort to promote the reporting of these activities.

The website for Tor, software that protects against Internet surveillance, presents a variety of reasons for using anonymizers, including preventing children from sharing too much information online and keeping identity thieves from discovering browser history and passwords. But acting on such concerns might now result in FBI scrutiny.

Supreme Court rules GPS tracking requires a warrant—sometimes

Equal Justice Under LawOn January 23, the Supreme Court unanimously decided in US v. Jones that police must obtain a warrant before entering private property to place a GPS tracking device on a suspect's car. On the one hand, the decision is a resounding victory for Fourth Amendment and privacy principles eroded by the government's use of advancing surveillance technologies. On the other hand, reading between the lines reveals a disturbing split on the Court about how the Fourth Amendment will apply in the future.

As noted by the Center for Democracy & Technology:

The Justice Department had argued that the GPS device, because it tracked the person's movements only on the public streets, did not raise any concern under the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which generally requires a warrant for searches and seizures. Not a single Justice agreed with the government on that issue.

Instead, all nine agreed that, under the facts of the case, the Constitution required a warrant issued by a judge. Five Justices agreed that any use of GPS planted by the government was a search generally requiring a warrant, effectively settling that issue.

On the other hand, the majority relied on a physical invasion of privacy, leaving substantial wiggle room for the government as surveillance technology continues to advance. Referring to the majority opinion, Justice Sotomayor observed that "In cases of electronic or other novel modes of surveillance that do not depend upon a physical invasion on property, the majority opinion’s trespassory test may provide little guidance." John Whitehead reviews a long list of such modes of surveillance currently in use, including drones, cameras, RFID chips, cell phones, biometric tracking devices and even "smart dust devices."

Justice Alito criticized Justice Scalia's majority opinion by noting its tension with the decision in Katz v. US (1967), which held that the Fourth Amendment could be violated even without a physical trespass. He, along with Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Ginsburg, specifically focused on the extended duration of GPS tracking apparent in Jones, articulating a more functional (and less formalistic) Fourth Amendment right than the majority recognized. For instance:

If longterm monitoring can be accomplished without committing a technical trespass—suppose, for example, that the Federal Government required or persuaded auto manufacturers to include a GPS tracking device in every car—the Court’s theory would provide no protection.

Even Justice Alito's concurring opinion, however, includes portions that indicate danger to Fourth Amendment protections. He notes that:

If the public does not welcome the diminution of privacy that new technology entails, they may eventually reconcile themselves to this development as inevitable....

Recent years have seen the emergence of many new devices that permit the monitoring of a person’s movements. In some locales, closed-circuit television video monitoring is becoming ubiquitous. On toll roads, automatic toll collection systems create a precise record of the movements of motorists who choose to make use of that convenience. Many motorists purchase cars that are equipped with devices that permit a central station to ascertain the car’s location at any time so that roadside assistance may be provided if needed and the car may be found if it is stolen.

Perhaps most significant, cell phones and other wireless devices now permit wireless carriers to track and record the location of users—and as of June 2011, it has been reported, there were more than 322 million wireless devices in use in the United States....

The availability and use of these and other new devices will continue to shape the average person’s expectations about the privacy of his or her daily movements.

While the Jones decision is worth celebrating, it is also a call to action for those who remain concerned about privacy. In the face of the rising adoption of new technologies, action opportunities such as BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration campaigns can play a vital role in influencing the expectations of privacy on which our rights depend.

New Resources and Opportunities

New materials for local campaigns against the NDAA

Americans from across the political spectrum have come together to raise their voices against the draconian detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). If you want to help restore due process and the right to trial, BORDC is here to support you.

We’ve launched a grassroots campaign to help individual cities and towns to declare their opposition to the dangerous law. Our campaign page includes background on the NDAA, a toolkit for local actions that includes suggested talking points and a "how-to" guide, and a model resolution you can adapt for your community. We’ve also set up an online form that you can use to submit your local campaign so that we can help support and promote it.

To get started, sign up to join the campaign to restore due process.

May 4-6: Convening for local civil rights campaign leaders

This spring, leaders from coalitions around the country organizing Local Civil Rights Restoration campaigns will gather May 4 to 6 for a weekend of skill building, issue education, and intensive campaign strategizing. The convening will focus on preparing these coalitions to move this important work forward—and on building relationships between organizers pursuing similar efforts in different locations.

If you are currently running a Local Civil Rights Restoration campaign and would like to attend the convening, please complete the convening application by March 9.

And if you haven't yet started a local campaign, it’s not too late! Contact Grassroots Campaign Coordinator Emma Roderick for more information. 

February 28: "We Are the Border" National Day of Action

Later this month, the Rights Working Group will join the Northern Border Coalition for a day of action to call for just and humane border policy.

On February 28, the Rights Working Group will join the Northern Border Coalition for "We are the Border" National Day of Action. Sign up to participate in this call for just and humane border policy.

Within 100 miles of the US border, Border Patrol agents profile and harass people of color, immigrants, and religious minorities at churches and food pantries. Latinos and Muslims shouldn’t be afraid to call 911. You don't have to forfeit your rights because you live near the border.

All across the country, people of conscience are organizing vigils, teach-ins, demonstrations, and "know-your-rights" meetings to raise awareness of the civil rights crisis at our borders. Sign up and upload your photo, get a toolkit, or to register to host an event.


Help BORDC restore the rule of law

  • Get involved! Volunteer, organize, raise your voice—we have an opportunity that's right for everyone.
  • Read our blog. We publish the latest civil liberties news, plus analysis beyond the headlines.
  • Support our work! Contribute securely online, call (413) 582-0110 to donate by phone, or mail a check or money order to:
    Bill of Rights Defense Committee
    8 Bridge St., Suite A
    Northampton, MA 01060
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Contributors: Shahid Buttar, Chris Erchull, Amy Ferrer, George Friday, Robert Jain, Lindsey Needham, Emily Odgers, Louisa Rockwell, and Emma Roderick

Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston

Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
www.bordc.org
info@bordc.org
Telephone: (413) 582-0110
Fax: (413) 582-0116