Redistricting doesn’t always mean better representation.
Edith “Edie” Windsor, who shared her life with her late spouse, Thea Spyer, for 44 years, filed a lawsuit against the federal government for refusing to recognize their marriage. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the “Defense of Marriage Act”, a federal statute that defines marriage for all federal purposes as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife. Windsor and Spyer were married in Canada in 2007 and were considered married by their home state of New York.
Stand with the ACLU in the fight for equality.
Our President and the DNC wonders how we lost so many House seats and did poorly in the Senate races; well maybe they should look back at what got them into office. So far there’s really been “No” change from the Cheney Administration of “Law of Rule” as opposed to the “Rule of Law” from which we have always believed in.
Exiled From Home
Doug Liman Talks “Fair Game”
The film is about Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, but it’s also about secrecy. The Bush administration gathers evidence to support its claim that Iraq presents an imminent threat to the United States and its allies. The intelligence is manipulated, and the evidence is false, but the public is told only the rotten conclusion — that Iraq has sought yellowcake uranium from Niger — and the public is of course not in any position to evaluate that claim, because the evidence to support it is secret. Joe Wilson exposes the truth; he pierces the secrecy that conceals government misconduct. He’s a whistleblower in the best sense of the word.
But of course Joe Wilson isn’t the only one in the film who pierces secrecy. When Joe Wilson exposes the truth about the yellowcake claim, the Bush administration decides to discredit him by exposing the truth about his wife. Joe Wilson has a secret, too, and the government exposes it. Lewis Libby and Karl Rove are whistleblowers in a different sense of the world. When they pierce secrecy, it is an extension of government misconduct that they’re already engaged in.
There’s a sense in which these two narratives — or these two sides of Liman’s narrative — are emblematic of twin political shifts that have taken place over the last decade years. The public knows less and less about government policy; government secrecy is increasingly the norm, and transparency the exception. At the same time, the government knows more and more about individual citizens; government surveillance is increasingly pervasive, and increasingly intrusive. These twin shifts reverse the proper relationship between a democratic government and its citizens. It’s supposed to be the government that’s transparent and accountable to the citizenry, but increasingly transparency and accountability work only in the other direction.
As government secrecy has become the norm, particularly on issues relating to national security, we’re increasingly reliant on whistleblowers to provide us with information. Without leaks to the media, we wouldn’t know about the Abu Ghraib abuses, we wouldn’t know about the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, and of course we wouldn’t know about the yellowcake scandal. It’s worth asking whether this is good for our democracy.
And as government surveillance has become the norm, citizens are also more and more vulnerable to government power. Valerie Plame is an extreme case, because her secret was one that, when exposed, almost completely destroyed her life. But the government knows more and more of our secrets — at the very least, it knows who we call overseas, it knows who we correspond with by email, it has access to our banking records, our telephone records, our credit records, our internet surfing histories. With information comes power; in this context, the power to expose is the power to destroy. Here, too, it’s worth asking whether this is good for our democracy.
It’s time for America to stop justifying the “Police State” that has developed over the past ten years and start asking our government about restoring some our freedoms that have been taken away under the disguise of “Fear”.
A few aspects of the opinion (PDF) are worth noting:
- The government’s application appears to request historical location information for whenever the phone was turned on, not just when calls were made. According to Judge Smith, “the Government seeks continuous location data to track the target phone over a two month period, whether the phone was in active use or not.” This is notable because the cell tracking applications we have seen previously only sought location information for those moments when an individual actually made a phone call. The government is now asking for a great deal more information, and consequently its requests are now more invasive than we previously thought.
- Cell phone tracking information is increasingly accurate. The opinion devotes many pages to explaining the ways in which cell tracking information has grown more accurate over time. In fact, it is because of these “refinements in location-based technology” that Judge Smith concludes that requests for cell tracking information trigger the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
- The Fourth Amendment requires the government to get a warrant and show probable cause to obtain historical cell tracking information. The court reached this conclusion both because cell tracking reveals information about constitutionally protected spaces such as the home, and because the prolonged nature of such surveillance is very invasive. The court likened the records sought by the government to “a continuous reality TV show, exposing two months’ worth of a person’s movements, activities, and associations in relentless detail.”
As we have explained elsewhere, the ACLU agrees with Judge Smith that the government should be required to obtain a warrant and show probable cause before obtaining cell tracking information. As powerful new technologies enhance the ability of government agents to track our every move, it becomes all the more important that the courts hold the government to a rigorous standard before the government can access such sensitive information.
We’ve advocated Human Rights for years, starting with the Carter Administration, and only now are we beginning to account to the international community regarding our own violations.
The best that can be said is “it’s a start”
Holding America Accountable at International Human Rights Review
This Friday, and for the first time ever, the United States will submit to a peer review of its human rights record as part of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s (HRC) Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which is taking place this week in Geneva.
I’m in Geneva as a member of the ACLU delegation to observe these proceedings. Panama and Mongolia were reviewed on Tuesday; dozens of countries submitted questions and recommendations on how well these two democratic nations were promoting and protecting human rights within their borders.
Delegates from Spain, the Netherlands, and Portugal commended Mongolia forissuing a moratorium against the death penalty earlier this year, but they urged the Mongolian government to take it a step further and immediately commute all death sentences. While most countries consider the application of the death penalty a gross violation of international human right norms, the United States continues to apply it in 35 states throughout the country. Just last week,Arizona executed Jeffrey Landrigan using a drug imported from England(according to Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard) and despite lingering doubts surrounding his guilt.
The death penalty is a topic that will surely come up on Friday morning when the United States submits to its review. And given the controversy over S.B. 1070, there’s no doubt that questions regarding racial profiling and immigration enforcement also will be raised during the U.S. review — topics that hit close to home. Although some of the most dangerous provisions of S.B. 1070 were blocked by a federal court judge, federal programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities continue to thrive in Arizona despite concerns over racial profiling and unlawful detentions of legal permanent residents and U.S. citizens. A recent study based on Freedom of Information Act documents obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network found that these programs target low-level offenders who pose little public safety threats (PDF) and wrongly identified about 5,880 people who turned out to be United States citizens.
In between the country reviews, I attended one of several “side events” held throughout the weeklong UPR session. One side event was organized by the Center for Reproductive Rights and focused on sexual and reproductive health care for marginalized populations in the U.S. Another side event sponsored by the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty addressed the lack of adequate housing in United States and the amazing efforts of nongovernmental organizations — or NGOs — in stepping in to address the housing needs of communities across the country especially in the midst of the economic crisis.
These first few days of my weeklong trip to Geneva have been extremely inspirational. I’ve had the opportunity to meet advocates from other NGOs who are working tirelessly to incorporate the human rights principles that are being discussed here in Geneva back home. We oftentimes forget that while we’re among the largest, wealthiest country in the world, we also continue to tolerate and condone violations of international human rights norms. The question is: will the U.S. live to its promise to lead by example and take the UPR recommendations seriously? Let’s hope so!