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Constitution in Crisis

July 2012, Vol. 11, No. 7

In this issue:

Aerial drones to deploy across US skies


Grassroots News

Law and Policy

New Resources and Opportunities

Aerial drones to deploy across US skies.

A national controversy has erupted over the expanding use of unmanned aerial drones by local police departments.  While the domestic use of drones raises disturbing questions about transparency, accountability, and privacy, local campaigns can fight back through reforms and oversight by their local legislatures.

First developed for military and clandestine service abroad, drone aircraft represent the latest example of America’s military-industrial complex, described by President Eisenhower (R) 50 years ago, returning home to undermine domestic civil liberties. While currently proposed only for surveillance purposes within the US, military drones also started out as surveillance instruments, before later becoming armed with weapons. Since then, they have spawned an entire industry sharing an interest in deploying drone aircraft ubiquitously over American skies.

Drones undermine not only to privacy, but also security and fiscal responsibility.  Vulnerable to hacking, proliferation, dangerous crashes in civilian areas, and potentially other threats, the domestic deployment of drones runs the risk of undermining public safety. It’s one thing when the county Sherriff uses drones to monitor highways.  It’s another thing when drug cartels use them with the same impunity as the CIA. Similarly, government analysis has indicated that the cost of using drones domestically may be prohibitive, even setting aside the security and privacy concerns.

Broad Area Maritime Survelience (BAMS)

Of course, drones have also been used abroad to kill American citizens who have never been convicted of a criminal offense, including one who was targeted on account of his father’s speech.  Few violations of our constitutional principles could be so fundamental than the authority to kill at whim, yet that is precisely what drones have offered to our nation’s leaders.

The beguiling opportunity for military and political leaders to pursue seemingly risk-free violence, coupled with the corporate interest of defense contractors who stand to make a (further) fortune from the widespread domestic deployment of drones, has combined to begin a race to the bottom in civil and human rights standards. Even setting aside the various problems with using drones domestically, the alignment of interests between government agencies and corporate industry presents an independent threat to democracy in America.

In the face of this tragic dynamic, We the People must raise our voice. When BORDC’s Shahid Buttar recently moderated a panel at a grassroots drone summit in Washington DC, co-hosted by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Code Pink, among other groups, he discussed how BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration campaign offers anyone opportunity to check the rise of the national security state in their backyard.

All over the country, grassroots activists from all walks of life are building broad and diverse coalitions to force a long overdue policy debate at the local level. Included within BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration campaign is a proposed requirement for notice, comment, and hearings before a local agency can procure military or electronic surveillance hardware. For example, the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley (CA) recently blocked the militarization of local police. When Berkeley Copwatch discovered the attempted purchase of an armored personnel carrier by local police agencies using a Department of Homeland Security grant, the coalition mobilized and was able to force the City Council to cancel the purchase.

If you share concerns about your state and local governments buying and deploying drones, start a civil liberties coalition in your city.  Together, we can force an overdue debate where you live, and secure transparency protections to ensure that if your police department wants to use military technology, it must disclose those plans to the public and withstand the resulting controversy, rather than co-opting your tax dollars in secret to invade your privacy and erode your rights.


BORDC invites law students to craft legal fellowships for 2013

If you’re entering your 3rd year of law school and interested in working with BORDC through an Equal Justice Works Fellowship, please send a resume and cover letter to by August 3, 2012.

BORDC seeks interns for fall 2012

As this summer progresses, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee seeks enthusiastic interns to join our team. If you—or anyone you know—would be interested in an internship focused on civil liberties, constitutional rights, and cultivating grassroots activism, please review the position description online and follow the application instructions.

Opportunities are available throughout the US, with applications welcome through Labor Day (September 3). While interns must agree to dedicate at least 15 hours per week to BORDC for the fall academic semester, applicants need not be students to be considered—so please share this information with current students, as well as recent graduates, those embarking on a new career path, and anyone else seeking to expand their skills and support the struggle to restore constitutional rights.

For those interested in volunteering with BORDC with a lower level of commitment, a variety of other opportunities includes research, outreach, and writing projects. For example, writing for our blog is a great way to build your skills and gain recognition under your own byline.

BORDC in the news

In the last month, BORDC’s work mobilizing communities and defending civil liberties drew attention from several regional and international news outlets.

On Monday, June 18, BORDC’s Executive Director, Shahid Buttar, appeared on Al Jazeera’s Inside Story  to discuss the impacts of racial profiling and the various connections among civil rights issues addressed by a recent silent march challenging NYPD abuses. In particular, Shahid connected the controversy surrounding discriminatory stop-and-frisks in New York City with the NYPD’s pattern of infiltrating businesses and universities across the northeast based on the faith of their students and clients.

Appearing alongside Brooklyn activist Kevin Powell, Shahid discussed the implications of New York’s stop-and-frisk policy on young people, as well as its place in a wider context of abuse. Highlighting the lack of effective oversight monitoring the NYPD, Shahid characterized the NYPD as “very opportunistically using their authorities.” Shahid also argued for a wide ranging Justice Department investigation into NYPD abuses.

On June 26, Buttar joined host Mitch Jesserich on KPFA’s Letters and Politics, where they addressed the ongoing controversy around racial profiling in the stop-and-frisk regime, the domestic military detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and the SCOTUS ruling on the Arizona immigration profiling law.

In addition, many other state and national news outlets have highlighted the grassroots movement growing around the country with the help of BORDC.  On June, 27, 2012, the San Francisco Bay Guardian ran an article featuring the work of BORDC and the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, which we have supported since its inception. Reporter Sasha Hippard quoted BORDC’s Shahid Buttar as saying, “I don’t think most people understand just how dramatically the balance between government power and individual liberties has shifted in the last 10 years,” while noting that we work with grassroots coalitions across the country to restore that balance.

Finally, BORDC continued to inject diverse voices into the public debate, with intern Nick Sibilla writing a report on grassroots momentum in Berkeley, CA, that was cross-posted by outlets including Truthout.

To view the various appearances of BORDC’s work in traditional and new media, visit our online press archive.

Read the latest news & analysis from the People’s Blog for the Constitution

Have you read BORDC’s blog lately? The People’s Blog for the Constitution has attracted a growing audience that has tripled over the past year. Featuring news & analysis beyond the headlines on a daily basis, it offers a great way to stay up to date and informed.

BORDC interns have been hard at work this past month drawing record traffic to the blog on July 8, 2012.  Nick Sibilla’s follow-up to “Citizens Oppose Berkeley Police Plans for Armored Vehicle” (which was featured on celebrates the recent success fo the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley's efforts to prevent local police from obtaining an armored bechicle through a government grant.

Highlights from the past month include:


Recent Events

BORDC’s George Friday addresses civil liberties in Greensboro, NC

On June 28th, the Beloved Community Center hosted “A Wake Up Call for Civil Liberties – Preemptive Prosecution, Entrapment, Indefinite Detention and More.”  BORDC's George Friday was joined by Law Professor Ed Fink, Mel Underbakke from Friends of Human Rights, and Laila Yaghi, mother of a young man currently in detention based on dubious allegations driven by an FBI-initiated plot.  George Friday spoke about the assaults on civil rights and opportunity to address racial profiling in each of the several ways in which it impacts various communities.

Executive Director Shahid Buttar mobilizes diverse audiences across Dallas, TX

The Dallas Peace Center held a series of events on July 11-12.  Shahid Buttar spoke and shared artistic expressions on Wednesday, July 11, as a part of “Positive Vibrations- Stand Up for Your Rights,” at the Glen Oaks United Methodist Church. He also engaged attendees of the Dallas Peace Center’s 8th Annual Dinner-Lecture series on Thursday, July 12 in a wide-ranging conversation addressing the NDAA and its provisions authorizing domestic military detention, their dramatic potential to shape the future of our nation, and the urgent need for diverse grassroots mobilization to reframe the public debate on these issues.

BORDC’s Shahid Buttar discusses surveillance and suppression of dissent in Washington, DC

On Saturday, July 14, BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar spoke at the "Prison Narratives Summer Lecture Series" on COINTELPRO 2.0.  The series, which concluded with Saturday's discussion of “Perspectives on Global Terrorism & Incarceration,” included presentations from Nefta Freeman, Events Coordinator at the Institute for Policy Studies, and Salim Adofo from the President of National Black United Front (DC Chapter).

Grassroots organizers explain their passion for civil liberties

BORDC hosted a convening in Chicago in May bringing together a diverse group of local civil rights activists from across the country. The convening focused on the BORDC's Local Civil Rights Restoration campaigns and coalitions uniting grassroots groups to challenge racial profiling, domestic intelligence collection, and militarization of local police departments. Several participants shared their thoughts about the contemporary constitutional crisis, and their work to comat it, in brief video interviews. The next two installments in the series are now available.

With support from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, BORDC hosted a convening in Chicago in May bringing together a diverse group of local civil rights activists from across the country. The convening focused on the BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration campaigns and coalitions uniting grassroots groups working on racial profiling, domestic intelligence collection, and militarization of local police departments.

The convening included 25 activists from 15 cities and 11 states, reflecting the full diversity of our nation, including high school students and retirees, African Americans, Latinos, Arabs, and South Asians, alongside allies from all ages, backgrounds, and parts of the country.

Several participants shared their thoughts in brief video interviews about the contemporary constitutional crisis and their work to combat it. BORDC will be releasing these videos over the coming weeks on our blog. Several are already available.


Loan Tran, of North Carolina, speaks about her work with various campaigns surrounding immigration including the DREAM Act and "Education Not Deportation." Tran emphasizes the importance of getting involved and taking action:

"If you want to get involved, the first thing you need to do is to start reading and start thinking about the community you’re in and the people you know. Inaction is itself an action; apathy doesn’t help solve the problem."

Andrew Bashi is recent law school graduate, nationally recognized National Lawyers Guild organizer, and board member of the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, who has worked for organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Andrew grounds his activism in preserving the civil liberties that inspired his parents to move to the US from Iraq. Bashi reflects on his own experiences and highlights the power of grassroots organizing and coalition building:

Don't limit yourself to just a matter where you are there are people that are doing stuff that is legitimate and actually furthering that goal...if that means joining a local coalition to pass a resolution, to me that's a really powerful way of getting others to engage in that conversation.

To view the remaining the videos, keep an eye out on our blog and facebook page for updates!

Grassroots News

Patriot Award: George Lippman

Every month, BORDC honors an individual who has done outstanding work in support of civil liberties and the rule of law in his or her community. This month, the Patriot Award goes to George Lippman for his years of service defending civil liberties in the Berkeley, CA, area.

George has been a contributing participant in the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley for the past year and a half, and a member of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission since 2008. The Coalition meets frequently to plan its efforts to secure human rights standards in policing. George has also played a significant role beyond Berkeley, reaching out to nearby coalitions to try building a more coherent regional campaign to restore civil rights across the San Francisco Bay Area.

George Lippman

The Safe Berkeley Coalition has gained tremendous momentum, attracting cooperation from dozens of groups and positive responses from the community as a whole. After mobilizing for a year —drawing in support from groups as diverse as the city’s Peace & Justice Commission to the NAACP, East Bay Veterans for Peace, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Asian Law Caucus, National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights, ACLU of Northern California, National Lawyers Guild, and East Bay Sanctuary Covenant —the coalition has been able to successfully set their city council’s agenda.

The discussion of dramatic and unprecedented police reforms in Berkeley has included measures to address local surveillance, suppression of dissent, local immigration enforcement, and (most recently) militarization of their local police. Last week, the City of Berkeley agreed to forgo a $200,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security for the purchase of an armored vehicle. After being alerted by Berkeley Cop Watch, community allies gathered 900 signatures on a petition and challenged the attempted purchase in their City Council.

After attending high school in New Jersey, George moved to California and has been actively involved in grassroots organizing ever since. His dedication to protecting civil liberties was cemented in the ‘90s, when he was involved in exposing an intelligence gathering scandal in San Francisco. Since moving to Berkeley 12 years ago he has become even more active in community organizing, participating in campaigns addressing a range of issues from immigration law, to racism within the police force, to oppression of activist groups.

Among the opportunities motivating George is the chance for the struggles for civil rights in Berkeley to have an effect, not only in California, but throughout the entire country. In his words, grassroots organizing is about “fighting for change in national policies, but waging the fight on a local level."

George also recognizes the delicate balance of pressing the powerful to make changes, without giving up on ambitious ideals. The key, George says, lies in “demanding you really want without being sucked into playing a game on anyone else's terms. . . we [the Safe Berkeley Coalition] have worked very hard to maintain our principles.”

George also serves as the current chair of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission.  This advisory board to the City Council works to bring the voices of the community into the halls of power, and to bring the resources of the City to the hands of grassroots movements. In recent months, the Commission has persuaded the City Council to call for the abolition of the NDAA and the shutdown of nuclear power plants in California, and to scale back its cooperation with the Secure Communities Initiative. A Commission structure along these lines presents a compelling model for other cities to consider.

George insists that the recent victories in Berkeley have been the result of many peoples’ efforts. “BORDC has been really helpful in providing templates and ideas for us to work with, and the real credit belongs to the Coalition as a whole.”

BORDC thanks George for the positive changes he has made in his community and for the example he has set for civil rights activists across the nation. He presents a model of service, leadership, and dedication to the principles upon which this country was founded, and BORDC is proud to honor him with the July 2012 Patriot Award.

Statewide coalition in CT working to challenge military detention

Organizers are hard at work on a campaign to pass a local resolution against the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA in New Britain, CT. They have reached out to the public through petitions and tabling, met with elected officials and community leaders, and educated audiences about the dangers of indefinite detention and how resolutions can help to restore the rule of law in this country.

Meanwhile, the Connecticut State Coalition Against Indefinite Detention is planning a regional conference on November 17. The conference will be a place for activists all around New England to come together, learn from each other, and strategize for next steps. BORDC will be posting more information soon, but for now, if you are in or near Connecticut, save the date — and let us know if you are interested in being involved in CT civil liberties activities.

Asheville, NC organizes a civil rights picnic

On July 9, Ashton Park in Asheville, NC was filled with music and laughter as community members came together for a Civil Rights picnic. A large, diverse group gathered to hear Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell speak about proposed local reforms to protect civil liberties and present BORDC’s April Patriot Award to winner Sarah Nunez


In addition, BORDC’s George Friday shared an “image theater” exercise based on Theater of the Oppressed, in which groups of 4-5 people “sculpted” each other into images depicting what the current denial of civil rights looks like in their communities, before then sculpting each other into images reflecting freedom. 

The picnic was sponsored by the Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council, Stand Against Racism, the Buncombe County Green Party, and BORDC.  Going forward, coalition allies are aiming to conduct public education about proposed policy reforms modeled on BORDC’s LCRR platform.

Miami, FL hosts Freedom Forum

Community leaders in Miami held a “Freedom Forum” on July 2nd, at which elected officials and candidates for office came together to offer their feedback on the Florida Freedom Charter, which addresses a comprehensive set of issues, including civil rights.  Miami residents are working to build a diverse coalition to address all their concerns, and are seeking commitments from elected officials to follow community driven solutions to them.

Cleveland, OH organizes around anniversary of 1982 profiling incident

On July 7, community members held a Civil Rights Town Hall to acknowledge the 30th anniversary of a famous incident of racial profiling in 1982. Vincent Chin was killed in Detroit, revealing widespread discrimination and bullying of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders —but racial profiling has continued to undermine the rights of this community, as well as other communities of color.

The question addressed by the July 7 town hall was “what can we do to stand up against racism and discrimination?” In response, coalition allies including CAIR and the Immigrant Support Network are pursuing a variety of outreach initiatives this summer, with an eye towards convening in late August to plan their LCRR campaign through the end of the year.

Coalitions in Los Angeles, CA challenge LAPD Spying and military detention

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition continues to expand its outreach and education regarding surveillance and other abuses of low income residents, young people, and people of color by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).  Through regular campaign meetings, letters to LAPD leadership, and meetings with city officials, the group is advancing measurable accountability. The coalition continues to focus on rescinding special orders 1 and 11, which govern surveillance and intelligence collection, but it also challenging other city programs undermining civil rights, such a proposed measures to address gang by characterizing LA residents, especially youth, as likely members.

Meanwhile, a nascent coalition of progressive and libertarian allies, including the Tenth Amendment Center, National Lawyers Guild, ACLU of Southern California, and Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace will meet in the coming weeks to plan a shared campaign opposing domestic military detention under the NDAA and AUMF. The Tenth Amendment Center hosted a public education event on the issue in early May, drawing over 100 attendees, and the coalition is poised to build on that important start to their local campaign.

Coalitions in San Francisco, CA resist proposed stop & frisk policy, as well as military detention

Grassroots activists in San Francisco are working to move beyond their recent victories countering surveillance by federal agencies to also engage further emerging issues. 

In May, Mayor Ed Lee signed the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance, which was unanimously adopted by the Board of Supervisors.  The ordinance restores local control over local police, prevents the FBI from blocking local supervisory control and civilian oversight, and holds SFPD offices accountable to privacy protections under the California state Constitution.

Then, in late June, Mayor Lee announced to press that he was considering using a “stop-and-frisk” policy in predominately African American areas of San Francisco. The Coalition for a Safe San Francisco quickly organized a joint letter rejecting the proposal, joining an online petition that has secured support from thousands of city residents recognizing that implementing a “stop-and-frisk” program would represent a profound step backwards.  On Tuesday, July 10, coalition supporters attended a meeting of the Board of Supervisors at which District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen introduced a resolution opposing the Mayor’s proposal.

Meanwhile, on July 29th and 31st, a parallel coalition in San Francisco will host forums in San Francisco and Oakland about the domestic military detention issues raised by the NDAA & AUMF.  Organized by the SF 99% Coalition and supported by the East Bay Social Forum, Asian Americans for Peace and Justice, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Code Pink, Movement for a Democratic Society-Bay Area, War Resisters League West, Japanese American Citizens League, Courage to Resist, Bradley Manning Support Network, School of the Americas Watch-SF, and NLG-SF, the forums will bring neighbors together, provide education, and raise awareness so that everyone’s rights can be protected.

From NY to SF: Rising up to end “Stop & Frisk”

While thousands of New Yorkers just marched the streets of the city on June 17 to protest NYPD’s widespread and unconstitutional stop and  frisk policy, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is debating the implementation of a similar stop and frisk program, ostensibly to “lower crime rates” in.

End Stop and Frisk: 6/17/2012 Silent March Against NYPD's Racial Profiling, Fifth Avenue, New York CityIn May 2012, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) published a report showing that more than 4 million residents of New York have been subjected to arbitrary searches and interrogation by local police between 2004 and 2011 and that a startling majority of these people are innocent and have no record of any criminal activity. Stop-and-frisk has clearly been ineffective in lowering crime rates or leading to seizure of firearms in New York City, and is unlikely to yield any better results in San Francisco.

Besides violating the Fourth Amendment of theU.S.Constitution,which protects all persons fromunreasonablesearches, the stop-and-frisk regime has moreover led to massive racial profiling and discrimination: data suggests that most of the civilians stopped for random searches are black and Latino, fostering fear and mistrust between citizens and law enforcement authorities.

Although New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to turn a blind eye on the civil rights violations driven by the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, other cities such as San Francisco should not walk down the same road and implement this unreasonable and unconstitutional policy.

As the Coalition for a Safe San Francisco argued in its coalition letter supported by BORDC:

It is perplexing why you would suggest that San Francisco look to cities like New York to implement a policy such as “stop-and-frisk” when a groundswell of evidence and community outrage there has thoroughly discredited the practice as ineffective and discriminatory.

NYPD’s own data on its “stop-and-frisk” policy reveals that it has resulted in minimum weapons and/or contraband yield but has targeted communities of color at disproportionate and alarming rates….

Racial profiling and discriminatory police brutality are already major problems in San Francisco and the Bay Area.  We should take steps to prevent police abuses by implementing mechanisms that allow for proper oversight, transparency and accountability, not pursue policies like stop-and-frisk.

Berkeley, CA, mobilizes to secure civil rights protections and de-militarize their local police

The ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC) added its voice to the growing chorus of civil liberty advocates in Berkeley, CA, in a letter addressed to the mayor and City Council. The ACLU-NC joined with the Police Review Commission (PRC) and Coalition for a Safe Berkeley in offering a variety of ways to “safeguard civil rights and civil liberties in the context of local/federal law enforcement collaboration.”

Agreeing with BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration Act model, the ACLU-NC asserts that “there is a clear need to for greater oversight and accountability” in regards to how the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) is funded and trained. Training provided to local police forces by federal organizations such as the FBI has been shown to encourage discrimination of minority groups by using exaggerated or false information about Muslims, African Americans, and Latinos.

One example of how BPD abuses can be harmful for community safety is found in the processing of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs):

SAR reporting centers throughout the country have encouraged both police officers and the general public to report “suspicious” non-criminal activity such as the use of binoculars, cameras, and even solicitations of charity as possible pre-cursors to terrorism. . . . If law enforcement agencies investigate every person with a camera, they will have little time to look for real threats. This holds true for Berkeley.

The ACLU-NC’s letter illustrated fatal flaws in the structure of the BPD agreements, and asked that the City Council respond with immediate reforms including severing ties with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), terminating a relationship with the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), and “ceasing enforcing immigration detainers under any circumstances.”

Another recent victory in regards to the management of the BPD came last week. Facing widespread public backlash against the idea, the Berkeley, Albany, and the University of California police departments announced that they would cancel an attempt to add an armored military vehicle to their arsenal. Even the mayor raised his voice in protest against the tank: “When we found out about this grant application we sort of went ballistic. I mean, why do we need [the armored vehicle] in Berkeley, and why would we want to militarize our police force?”

Law and Policy

FBI Faces Investigation for Wrongful Convictions

After a Washington Post investigation revealed misconduct in scores of cases turning on the FBI’s examination of forensic hair evidence, the Justice Department on July 10 announced a wide-ranging investigation of FBI practices stretching back over 20 years.  The Bureau relied on dubious forensic analysis leading to thousands of questionable convictions, prompting one former senior government official to describe its misconduct as having prompted “a holocaust”.

According to C. Fred Whitehurst, a former FBI agent and whistleblower:

The FBI is agreeing to look at 10,000 cases when in fact the FBI taught local, state and federal crime lab personnel this analytical technique for decades. That means in this nation alone there are virtually hundreds of thousands of cases in jeopardy where forensic hair analysis was conducted. We are seeing a holocaust of law enforcement comes to light which has been taking place now for decades under the nose of an unsuspecting American nation.

Former Justice Department inspector general Michael R. Bromwich, who investigated problems with FBI lab analyses in the 1990s, called the review “an important and necessary response to the multiple documented cases in which flawed hair microscopy analysis and testimony have led to wrongful convictions.”

According to BORDC’s Shahid Buttar:

It's striking that even as the Bureau is finally under investigation (which offers a reason for rare praise of the Justice Department), the emphasis remains entirely on exonerating the falsely imprisoned, without confronting the criminal guilt of corrupt prosecutors who used this kind of tainted evidence for years.

Finally, the underinclusion of the review is hard to overlook. If limited to cases involving hair & fiber analysis, what about all the (dozens of) counter-terror cases driven by dubious surveillance evidence? The [Inspector General] has even recognized problems with many of those cases, in which evidence was withheld from defense counsel in violation of the Brady rule, but no one has acted to address the IG's observations yet.

President Obama issues executive order allowing government seizure of Internet

Last week, President Obama signed an executive order that, according to critics, could give the White House and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to monitor and control the Internet during natural disasters and security emergencies. Section 5.2 of the July 6 Executive Order on “Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions” grants broad powers in the event of such an emergency, including the power to determine priorities when restoring even non-military communications networks related to national security and emergency preparedness communications.

Disney, Sony and Fox team with Internet Providers to Spy on You

In addition to the troubling substantive reach of these powers,the lack of clarity in the lines of reporting could also present issues.  For example, while the executive order principally empowers the Homeland Security Secretary, other authorities appointed in Section 3.2 to a new “National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Executive Committee” include “Assistant Secretary-level or equivalent representatives designated by the heads of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Commerce, and Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the General Services Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission.”

Grassroots momentum compels immigration enforcement policy shift

Recent actions from both the executive and judicial branches have shown that the energy of grassroots movements focusing on immigration issues is having a powerful effect. Although racial profiling remains rampant across the US, the “stopgap policy” announced by the Obama administration,  as well as the Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona v. US, show that concerns about profiling immigrants are being taken more seriously on a national level. 

In response to Congress’ failure to pass the DREAM Act, the Obama administration took matters into its own hands with what the President calls a “stopgap measure.”

This is not amnesty; this is not immunity; this is not a path to citizenship; it’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. It is the right thing to do.

The measure will potentially stop the deportation of up to 800,000 young immigrants. Only immigrants who arrived in the country before their 16th birthday, are younger than 30, have been in the US for at least five consecutive years, have no criminal record, and have graduated from a US high school or served in the military or earned a GED qualify for the measure.

SB1070 Immigration Reform March 05.JPG

The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has also recently impacted the immigration debate, in Arizona v. US. The Supreme Court was divided in upholding the “papers please” provision that allows state law enforcement to demand immigration papers from anyone stopped, detained or arrested. However, SCOTUS struck down some of the harsher provisions of Arizona’s law, including one that allowed warrantless arrests of anyone believed to have committed a deportable offense, and another that made it a crime for undocumented immigrants to seek employment. Although this split decision fails to eliminate profiling from Arizona state law, it remains an important step in addressing the problem.

Ultimately, America still has a long way to go in eradicating racial profiling, but grassroots efforts to challenge the practice are having an impact. With coalitions building a grassroots movements in communities across the nation, there are several ways to get involved and stand up for the rights of all residents. To find out more, visit the People’s Campaign for the Constitution and contact the BORDC Organizing Team today!  

Congress Holds Obama Administration Accountable for “Fast and Furious”

In late June, the House of Representatives voted 255-67 to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. Holder and the Department of Justice had been accused of refusing to comply with a congressional inquiry into the Fast and Furious scandal. Created by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Fast and Furious was an operation to let guns “walk” without police interdiction. More than 2,000 firearms were lost. In December 2010, Fast and Furious guns were found at the scene of the killing of Brian Terry, a US Border Patrol agent.480px-Eric_Holder_official_portrait

On the one hand, the contempt vote may reflect the latest demonstration of partisan vitriol paralyzing our federal government. However, it also demonstrates that accountability is possible when Congress is determined to act.

Ultimately, the House overlooked a far more compelling arena in which to challenge the Obama administration: its dismal civil liberties record. There has been no accountability for pervasive dragnet warrantless wiretapping. Instead of the transparency promised by the President as a candidate, the Obama administration is “continuing its campaign for unchecked government secrecy.” John Yoo, the Bush administration lawyer who authorized torture, has been granted “qualified immunity” even as mass incarceration and deportation are decimating generally law-abiding communities. As Salon’s Glenn Greenwald wrote earlier this year, American institutions “have so profoundly failed in the wake of 9/11 to protect the most basic liberties…[that]:”

(1) not one War on Terror victim has been permitted to sue for damages in an American court over what was done to them, even when everyone admits they were completely innocent, even when they were subjected to the most brutal torture, and even when the judiciary of other countries permitted their lawsuits to proceed; and,

(2) not one government official has been held legally accountable, either criminally or even civilly, for any War on Terror crimes or abuses; perversely, the only government officials to pay any price were the ones who blew the whistle on those crimes.

Solitary confinement brings torture to the US

The practice of solitary confinement is under new scrutiny for violating human rights. Originally designed to separate and isolate only the most dangerous, aggressive prisoners, solitary confinement is increasingly used routinely against immigrants, juveniles, people labeled with mental disorders, and LGBTQ inmates. Once in solitary, prisoners can be locked in a cell for up to 23 hours and can suffer severe psychological torment.

More than 2.3 million people are imprisoned in the United States—the world’s highest per capita rate of incarceration. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, American prisons hold over 80,000 prisoners in some form of restricted detention.

In addition to violating human rights, solitary is very expensive: at Illinois’ Tamms Supermax facility, confining a person in solitary costs three times as much as imprisoning him within the general population. As a result, prison reform can be fiscally conservative. For example, Mississippi reduced the number of prisoners in solitary from 1,000 to 150 and saved Mississippian taxpayers $8 million, according to the ACLU.

Recently, Reason magazine interviewed legendary journalist James Ridgeway about solitary confinement. Ridgeway currently maintains the site Solitary Watch, which tracks the use of solitary confinement and other forms of torture across the United States. According to Ridgeway:

Obama says we don’t torture, but a lot of this is straight-up torture…We call Guantanamo and Afghanistan torture and we never look at our own stuff.


Fortunately, this regime is changing at both the local and federal level. Back in January, the Chicago City Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring the Windy City to be a “torture free zone.” The resolution pledged support for the victims of torture and affirmed that all prisoners “are entitled to have their human rights respected, including their right to be free from torture.” The council specifically deemed that solitary confinement is a form of torture.

On the federal level, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) chaired the first ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement in June. A model of a cell in solitary was even assembled and could be viewed at the hearing. For Senator Durbin, raising awareness about solitary confinement is vital to reform:

The dramatic expansion of the use of solitary confinement is a human rights issue we can’t ignore. We can no longer slam the cell door and turn our backs on the impact our policies have on the mental state of the incarcerated and ultimately on the safety of our nation.

You, too, can impact these policies in your community, state, and across the nation. Start by getting involved with a local campaign to hold perpetrators accountable for torture.

The War on Whistleblowers

The Obama administration has already become the most aggressive prosecutor of alleged government leakers in American history. The method with which his administration has gone after these dedicated and courageous public servants is equally surprising.

The Justice Department, operating under direct orders from the president, has chosen the 1917 Espionage Act—enacted in the panic of the First World War—as the preferred means for prosecuting contemporary whistleblowers. And in January of this year, John Kiriakou, a 14 year veteran of the CIA, became the ninth and latest man in history to be charged under this law for the mishandling of classified information. Shockingly, of nine such cases spanning 95 years, six were initiated under the Obama administration.  

While presidents throughout history have always feared the release of damaging information, President Obama has chosen to send a warning to potential whistleblowers despite campaigning for a more open government. As demonstrated by the case of military whistleblower Bradley Manning, or former NSA official (and BORDC advisory board member) Thomas Drake, officials who do not guard government secrets risk incurring the full wrath of the federal governmen.

In addition to prosecuting twice as many whistleblowers as all other presidents combined, President Obama has limited the disclosure of information in other aspects as well. The administration has perpetuated the use of the state secrets privilege to invalidate lawsuits against the government. Similarly, the Justice Department has acted to resist many Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought against the government. And just last week, top intelligence officials announced that the government is expanding its use of the polygraph to expose federal employees who leak classified information to the media.

Having once campaigned as an arbiter of reason against the misguided actions of the Bush Administration, Obama has in many areas surpassed his predecessor in the furtherance of state secrecy. If history is any indication and secrecy continues to create abuse, let us all hope brave public servants will continue to resist injustice and blow the whistle.

New Resources and Opportunities

Book Review: The Offensive Internet by Martha Nussbaum and Saul Levmore

The Offensive Internet is a new anthology from Harvard University Press about the freedom of the Internet and the problems it can create. Martha Nussbaum and Saul Levmore, two professors at the University of Chicago Law School, edit and contribute to this book, which includes a diverse group of authors who share unique ideas about the Internet and its various problems.

Together, the authors aim to demonstrate that regulation of the Internet is appropriate only when it comes to “threats, bribery, and defamatory statements, fighting words, fraud, copyright, plagiarism.” A few basic questions posed by the book include “how can the internet harm?” and “how might it be stopped in the future?” The book is split into three sections in order to answer this question: Reputation, Speech, and Privacy.

Author Danielle Keats Citron believes that an area of civil rights needs to be specialized to accommodate the Internet because of its ability to create mob mentality. Others, like Levmore, believe that the Internet should be treated more like newspapers, by risking liability if they do not enforce “non-anonymity principles.”

These solutions, however, do not allow for much privacy. Author Ruben Rodrigues suggests a compelling solution that shifts the privacy struggle from users to the companies that benefit from the usage of the website.  In his essay, “Privacy on Social Networks: Norms, Markets, and Natural Monopoly,” Rodrigues discusses the possibility of shifting data in order to keep it safe.  He suggests that the government create a data portability regulation that would allow users to go from network to network with their information. This action would enable competitors to gain users due to positive privacy policies and others would suffer due to violations of privacy.


While compelling, however, The Offensive Internet offers a dense read due to its careful examination of philosophy and legal principles. On the other hand, because the issue of the evolving Internet and its freedoms are essential to every American, it is well worth the time.

Grassroots Toolkit

We are pleased to announce a new resource for the civil liberties community: a new and improved Grassroots Organizing Toolkit for Local Civil Rights Campaigns. The toolkit contains guidance, case studies, ideas, templates, and strategic wisdom for anyone interested in organizing a local civil rights campaign—regardless of experience level.

The toolkit features useful resources such as:

  • A step-by-step guide to planning your first meeting
  • Tips on building a dynamic, diverse, coalition
  • Concrete information about building power through action
  • An entire section on creative tactics from street theater, to “artivism,” to flash mobs
  • An up-to-date section on using social networking – good for seasoned social networkers and computer-phobes alike
  • Information about how to approach and build relationships with elected officials
  • Several templates: outreach emails, press releases, and more

Check out the toolkit and share it with your local campaign. As always, please feel free to send BORDC feedback about anything further you think would be helpful.

This August, hold your members of Congress accountable

Indefinite detention. Government surveillance. Rampant racial profiling. These constitutional violations happen daily, but this summer offers an extraordinarily timely chance to impact the debate on these vital issues in Congress. This August, your representatives will return home to hear from their constituents about the issues that matter to you. Make sure they hear from you, and know that you support three pieces of legislationto help fix many civil liberties abuses:

  • The Smith-Amash Civil Rights Act, which would repeal the indefinite detention powers of the National Defense Authorization Act;
  • The JUSTICE Act, which would roll back disturbing powers extended by the PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments of 2008, while including further protections for civil rights and liberties; and
  • The End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), which would provide much-needed protections against rampant racial profiling happening in all corners of the country

Members of Congress need to know their constituents care about these reforms. Will you meet with your member of Congress while s/he is home for the August recess?

Stay tuned for more updates and resource materials with guidance on taking advantage of the summer recess to force a congressional debate. In the meantime, find contact information for your congressional representatives and urge them to support these important pieces of legislation to defend civil liberties!

Help BORDC restore the rule of law

  • Take action! Volunteer, organize, raise your voice—we have an opportunity that's right for everyone.
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    Bill of Rights Defense Committee

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Contributors: Shahid Buttar, Zoeth Flegenheimer, George Friday, Munazza Khan, Annette Macaluso, Emily Odgers, Samantha Peetros, Mackenzie Peterson, Emma Roderick, and Nick Sibilla

Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston

Bill of Rights Defense Committee

8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060

Telephone: (413) 582-0110

Fax: (413) 582-0116