Thursday, October 30, 2008

Please share with friends in California

This video features three families telling their stories about why the right to marry matters to them -- and why everyone in California should vote NO to Prop 8 on November 4th.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero also made this personal plea.

The right to marry is safe for now in Massachusetts, but the passage of Prop 8 in California would be a victory for opponents of marriage equality and could embolden new attempts to do the same here.

How private is your email?

Boston Globe correspondent Megan McKee has written this interesting story about a controversy in Rockland. A police lieutenant allegedly revealed the identity of a person who, using an online screen-name, warned about an upcoming police sobriety checkpoint.

Questions raised include whether or not the police had a right to do this, but also whether they might have broken the law in doing it. One comment on the story at, however, suggests that anyone with basic know-how could trace the identity of a posting or e-mail like this.

The method described in that comment at least sounds plausible -- can anyone here confirm whether or not this is really possible?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Vote YES on Question 2

The ACLU of Massachusetts urges a YES vote on Question 2 on the November 4 ballot.

By approving this sensible proposal, we can administer a healthy dose of reform to our state’s ailing and antiquated drug laws.

In Massachusetts, the "war on drugs" has made our prisons overflow, wasted millions of dollars, redirected law enforcement resources away from serious crime, and given career-destroying criminal records to even the most occasional and nonviolent marijuana users. Taking the possession of small amounts of marijuana out of the realm of state criminal law enforcement would greatly reduce the human and financial costs of continuing the "war on drugs."

The new law would create a civil penalty and a system of fines for individuals who are charged with possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. That's an improvement over current law, which treats marijuana possession as a criminal offense. Offenders can face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500. Civil penalties would be enforced by issuing citations, the marijuana would be forfeited, and a civil penalty of $100 could be imposed. Eleven other states have similar laws, most in place for decades.

Taking the possession of small amounts of marijuana out of the Massachusetts criminal law enforcement realm would greatly reduce the human and financial costs of continuing the “war on drugs” when the drug is a small amount of marijuana. Maintaining current criminal law enforcement policies also has significant civil liberties costs -- losses to our freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, to property rights, and to the principles of fairness, equality, and nondiscriminatory treatment.

Massachusetts taxpayers lay out almost $30 million each year just to arrest, “book” and manage preliminary court functions for offenders charged with possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, according to a study by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron. The decriminalization law proposed by Question 2 would save Massachusetts those millions.

And we could save much more valuable human resources, especially our young people. So many individuals in Massachusetts have had their productive lives and opportunities stunted and damaged when they have been branded with “criminal offender record information” (CORI). They’re branded with CORI at the time of arrest; branding doesn’t await formal conviction. Logged into a state database, an individual’s CORI remains there indefinitely, available to employers, landlords, licensing agencies, credit agencies and lenders, and others. The CORI “system” confines its data subjects in a records prison. That’s a hugely disproportionate punishment for possession of a small amount of marijuana.

The ACLU of Massachusetts has long supported drug policy reforms, including the decriminalization law embodied in Question 2. It’s not only sensible -- it’s also practical and protective of our civil liberties.

Please vote YES on Question 2 in the November 4 election, and help us spread the word.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

FISA phone sex

"Stay out of our bedrooms" is a popular slogan among people who stand up for privacy rights, individual liberties, and reproductive freedom. But having the government listening just outside our bedrooms isn't good either.

This Boston Globe editorial, Bush's boudoir eavesdroppers, urges a thorough investigation to find out whether or not it's true that government agents have used expanded wiretapping powers to listen in on "intimate" phone calls between spouses and partners from Americans abroad -- including members of the military -- just for the fun of it, just because they could.

The piece also suggests the need for Congress to revisit the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008, which did away with the need for court approval for government monitoring of Americans' communications to and from abroad.

We agree! There are many reasons why this year's Congressional cave-in on FISA was wrong, but one of them is simply that a warrant would put a much stronger barrier between high-tech government peeping Toms and ordinary, unsuspecting citizens.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Massachusetts a "Constitution Free Zone"

The ACLU has released a new map showing areas of the United States that are now a "Constitution Free Zone," thanks to extraordinary new powers available to border agents. The entire state of Massachusetts falls within the area, as do the homes of about 2/3 of the U.S. population.

Help with virtual phone banks in California and South Dakota

Marriage Equality at stake in California

Reproductive Rights on the ballot in South Dakota

Here in Massachusetts, marriage equality and reproductive rights are secure -- but other states are not so fortunate.

The ACLU is working in coalition with important campaigns in South Dakota, where a referendum is on the ballot to outlaw ALL abortions in the state; and in California, where a constitutional amendment is on the ballot that would TAKE AWAY the hard-won right of gay and lesbian couples to marry.

These campaigns urgently need your help in the remaining days until the election.

Please help by signing up to phone bank from your own home. All you need is a computer with web access and a phone -- it’s that easy to make a difference in this election.

To defend California's right to equal marriage, contact our coalition partner:

To protect the right to choose, contact our coalition partner, the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families.
E-mail Field Director Lindsey Pagel about virtual phonebanking:

Thank you. Stay with us for more details, and make sure your friends get our emails or join our Facebook group.

Monday, October 20, 2008

New president, new president

As the country gets close to choosing a new president, the national ACLU has chosen a new president as well: Brooklyn Law School professor Susan Herman.

Anthony Romero continues as Executive Director of the national ACLU.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Big Brother" in schools?

Globe reporter Connie Paige quotes our Staff Attorney, Sarah Wunsch, in this story about the controversy over installing video surveillance cameras in Lexington schools.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Department of Pre-Crime arrives?

Sean Gonsalves, columnist for the Cape Cod Times, writes about the FBI's new focus on "anticipating and preventing" crimes instead of investigating crimes that have actually occurred. In his piece We're Not In Kansas Anymore, Gonsalves says the FBI has become like the frightening Department of Pre-Crime in the 2002 film Minority Report.

The column also mentions the ACLU's concerns about the Fusion Centers, the real-life secretive new government clearinghouses of data on all of us.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Certiorari Denied" = we won

We've learned that Parker v. Hurley, the case in which a small group of anti-gay activists sought to stop the use of Lexington schoolbooks that include gay families, is basically over. "Certiorari Denied" basically means that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear this case and will let the prior ruling stand.

Friday, October 3, 2008


With most attention focused on the lurching stock market and presidential campaign, today U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey issued new guidelines for domestic FBI operations to permit "enhanced intelligence collection and analysis."

What this basically means is more, easier spying on ordinary citizens. The guidelines lower the threshold for beginning an investigation, and they allow a person's race or ethnic background to be used as a consideration.

No, really.

The ACLU and others condemn the guidelines as a major step backward toward FBI abuses of the past, such as surveillance of civil rights and anti-war activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In August, we urged people to contact Attorney General Mukasey to register opposition to the new guidelines. We also thanked Sen. Kennedy for co-signing a letter that asked Mukasey to delay issuing the new guidelines until they have been made public and until there has been time for Congressional, national security, and civil liberties experts to weigh in on them.

Well, no such luck. The guidelines reportedly go into effect until Dec. 1.

This is an excellent occasion to mark calendars for the ACLU of Massachusetts 2009 statewide conference, "Beyond the Politics of Fear," to be held at UMass Boston on Feb. 7, 2009. We're holding it just days after the inauguration of the next president. Make sure you get details as they become available: join our email list or our Facebook group.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Globe columnist Jacoby lays blame for financial crisis

If Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby really thinks that the seeds of today's financial crisis were sown by do-gooder interference with the free-market system, on behalf of minorities -- which is what he argued in his Sunday column Frank's fingerprints are all over the financial fiasco -- then why does he stop with the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977? It sounds like his real problem is with the Emancipation Proclamation.