Friday, January 29, 2010

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts mourns the passing of Howard Zinn, a true friend of civil rights and civil liberties for all.

The following was contributed by Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts mourns the passing of Howard Zinn, a true friend of civil rights and civil liberties for all people. Professor Zinn was fearless in his advocacy, serving as a role model to people young and old with his intrepid work to popularize notions of individual rights for all. The ACLU of Massachusetts was honored to bestow its “Lifetime Achievement” award on Professor Zinn in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to civil rights and civil liberties.

“The extraordinary clarity of his thought and strength of his voice made Professor Zinn one of the most beloved and influential defenders of freedom that our nation has known,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “And he was always so generous with his time and wisdom. All of us at the ACLU shall miss him greatly and must redouble our efforts to defend freedom and liberty in his honor..”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

First Amendment Minutes: 1/27/10

We've got a fresh batch of First Amendment Minutes for you today, after a brief vacation from podcasting.

As always, you can listen or download the episodes here or on our podcast page:


ACLU First Amendment Minute: Police Misconduct

Police misconduct, lying on the witness stand, in New York City has become institutionalized. Who said that?

ACLU First Amendment Minute: A New Record

The USA has set another all-time record!

ACLU First Amendment Minute:

Can survive? It's a website that publishes documents that someone, somewhere thinks should be made public, and then dares the government, any government, to try to shut it down.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Truck Stops Here

As you probably know, the state of Massachusetts elected a new senator yesterday, to fill the seat of the late, great, Ted Kennedy. Kennedy was a fierce advocate for civil rights – he fought especially hard for equal rights for all people, regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion, earning him the nickname “the liberal lion”.

Scott Brown, the Senator-elect, has big shoes to fill – we have some concerns about previous statements he’s made about civil liberties issues, including statements about the use of torture, indefinite detention and equal rights for all.

But don’t forget: the ACLU has been here for 90 years. Elected officials come and go. The ACLU stays. We will never stop defending your right to freedom, liberty and equality under the law. We are in the Courts, in the State House, and in the halls of Congress to defend your rights. We steadfastly resolve to work with Senator Brown – as with representatives of all political stripes – to ensure that the people of the Commonwealth enjoy the guarantees and protections set forth in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The ACLU never backs down from the defense of individual liberty.

We will continue to fight for equal protection for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. We stand for due process under the law, and for the right of all residents to be safe, free and protected from unconstitutional surveillance and unwanted, unwarranted intrusion on their privacy. We will continue to call for accountability and transparency from our elected officials, and we’ll never shy away from seeking justice for all.

We’ve got your back.

- This post was contributed by Danielle Riendeau, Carol Rose and Christopher Ott

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I also have a dream

The following comes from ACLU blogger Melissa Mongogna.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and as we celebrate and revere one of our most deserving American leaders and pioneers (unlike, shall we say, Columbus who was not only a mass murderer, but was also not the first to discover America for which we celebrate him for) I am sure you will see posts and news headlines that bear a similar theme to this one.

But let me be cliché for this one post and say that I also have a dream…

…that every government or system of power around the world will respect the rights of their citizens, their privacy, and their civil liberties.

…that one day people will realize that healthcare is a human right, not simply a privilege of those more fortunate then most or those fortunate enough to have a job which provides adequate or any coverage.

…that people will realize that social class is probably the single most important variable for success in society…allowing for regular and preventative healthcare, proper nutrition, sustained food and shelter, a quality education, a longer lifespan, etc…and then strive to help society become more equitable for every citizen.

…that one day all citizens of the world will have equal rights under the law, including the right to love the person one chooses and marry them with the same rights and responsibilities which the vast majority enjoy.

…that as a people we will embrace our differences instead of marginalizing unique voices in our society, and realize that no one’s opinion is ever wrong, as long as it is informed by facts and not fear.

…that one day all people of the world will live in a country which is able to create opportunity for their citizens to get a quality education and have access to jobs within their own country, if they chose to live and work there, that will give them enough capital to help provide for themselves, their families, their culture and their soul.

…that people all over the world will realize that we are all citizens of this world, and thus be inspired to create pathways to citizenship for people to work freely within it.

…that people all over the world, but especially in already developed countries, will learn to live more sustainably, before we throw away the future of our planet and our children.

…that everyone around the world will become lifelong learners, flexible in their judgments and eager in their willingness to learn new things.

…that the American news media will realize that part of the reason why places like Haiti are so poor is the direct result of American historical policy of embargoing nations who pursued their own paths to success, and current policies like providing food subsidies to American farmers (thus thwarting international farmers ability to be competitive and self sufficient on the international market) and stop insinuating that the victims are to blame through incompetence.

...that people all over the world will realize that aid is not the solution to assisting struggling nations, but development is as Confucius did centuries ago when he said…“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

…that the American government will remember the words of Benjamin Franklin and realize that 'Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.'

Those are just a few of my dreams that come to my mind and which are important to me. Feel free to add more as you go through your day, and also add them to your active agenda as you work through all the days of your life. And remember to pass them on, as you can also make a difference as Martin Luther King, Jr. did. He was a catalyst for change in this country and changed the face of race relations around the world. One man who made a huge difference in the lives of so many.

Be inspired by his effort and lead your own battle, big or small, to change the world.

Written by Melissa Mongogna


Friday, January 15, 2010

Secrecy, Surveillance and Sunlight

Secrecy, Surveillance and Sunlight

As you know, we’re very closely following the LGBT news this week (especially with the Proposition 8 trial in California and recent talk about repealing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy).

However, we’re also gearing up for our big statewide conference, which is taking place on February 6th, 2010 at UMass Boston. The theme of the day is Secrecy, Surveillance and Sunlight, and we’re focusing on talks, workshops and strategies for activists and ACLU supports, advocating the end to needless surveillance and abuses of power.

Check out our list of workshops:

Presentations and How-To Workshops:

Taking on Big Brother: Post 9/11 Surveillance

Liberty & Security in the 21st Century: Can We Have Both?

Confronting the New McCarthyism: Post 9/11 Guilt By Association and Dissent

Piercing the Code of Silence: Race, Secrecy, and Law Enforcement

Social Media: Blogging for Liberty, Tweeting for Equality

Shake the System: Civil Liberties Activism in Congress and the State House

The ACLU of Massachusetts at 90

We also have some seriously powerful speakers, including our keynote speaker, Jameel Jaffer, the Director of ACLU’s National Security Program.

We’ll give you a special preview of Jameel’s talk next week, but for now, check out our official conference page and register for the conference!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Police vs. Cellphones

Say you’re walking down the street (or better yet, rudely awakened by loud noises) and you spy a police officer treating someone rather roughly. The first instinct of many civil-liberties-minded folks may be to grab for a camera. Unfortunately, according to a feature published today at, doing so could get you arrested for illegal electronic surveillance.

This is what happened to Simon Glik, a lawyer (and ACLU client) who taped what he perceived to be unnecessarily rough treatment by police. He was arrested and his phone was confiscated.

From the piece:

In 1968, Massachusetts became a “two-party’’ consent state, one of 12 currently in the country. Two-party consent means that all parties to a conversation must agree to be recorded on a telephone or other audio device; otherwise, the recording of conversation is illegal. The law, intended to protect the privacy rights of individuals, appears to have been triggered by a series of high-profile cases involving private detectives who were recording people without their consent.

In arresting people such as Glik and Surmacz, police are saying that they have not consented to being recorded, that their privacy rights have therefore been violated, and that the citizen action was criminal.

“The statute has been misconstrued by Boston police,’’ said June Jensen, the lawyer who represented Glik and succeeded in getting his charges dismissed. The law, she said, does not prohibit public recording of anyone. “You could go to the Boston Common and snap pictures and record if you want; you can do that.’’

The piece ends with a very telling quote from another man who was arrested for similar reasons:

“I didn’t do anything wrong,’’ he said. “Had I recorded an officer saving someone’s life, I almost guarantee you that they wouldn’t have come up to me and [said], ‘Hey, you just recorded me saving that person’s life. You’re under arrest.’ ’’

Monday, January 11, 2010

Proposition 8 Trial Begins Today

Today, we’re eagerly following the challenge to proposition 8 (the anti-marriage equality proposition that banned gay marriage in California) in Federal Court. The case is called Perry v. Schwarzenegger, and, as this DailyKos post explains, is different from a previous challenge:

“Note that this is different from the challenge to Proposition 8 that went to the California Supreme Court last year--that challenge failed, but allowed the 18,000 extant same-sex unions to keep their marriage licenses.”

It’s a case of tremendous consequence for marriage equality:

“It's not exactly news that the marriage equality movement hasn't scored a lot of victories lately (in this country, anyway). In the past year, we've seen Proposition 8 pass in California and Question 1 pass in Maine, thus overturning gay marriage legalizations passed by their respective legislatures, while the State Senates of New York and New Jersey have each rejected marriage equality bills moving through their chambers. So we’re overdue for a victory here, and this would be an important one: the case will be heard by Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern California District Court. If the plaintiffs are successful, the ruling will be binding (pending appeals and a SCOTUS challenge if there is one) on all the states within the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit, which covers the entire Western United States, and render the banning of gay marriage unconstitutional in all the states in the Circuit.”

Follow our blog for important updates, and also consider following us, the ACLU’s Northern California Affiliate and ACLU LGBT Project on twitter for up-to-the-minute coverage.

Friday, January 8, 2010

First Amendment Minutes: 1/8/10

We have three fresh new podcast episodes ready for your civil liberties listening pleasure today. The story of Reagan-era Attorney General Ed Meese, an incident involving a driver and a cop, and one very interesting stock tip are on the menu.

As always, you can listen to them right here or on our dedicated podcast page.

ACLU First Amendment Minute: A Hot Stock Tip

Today, for a change of pace, we have a hot stock pick. Though the interested investor probably needs a Teflon-lined stomach.

ACLU First Amendment Minute: An Irritated Driver

An automobile driver, as the New York Times so delicately put it, "gestured offensively with his middle finger," at another driver who, whoops, turned out to be a cop. The result may surprise you.

ACLU First Amendment Minute: Ed Meese

Ed Meese, Ronald Regan's law-and-order Attorney General, who once blasted the ACLU for being what he called, "part of the criminals' lobby," now is standing before the US Supreme Court, shoulder to shoulder, with the ACLU.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Civil Rights Issue of Our Time

The following was contributed by ACLU blogger Melissa Mongogna.

In his inaugural address, Mayor Menino characterized education as “the civil rights issue of our time” ( Forgetting the more detailed debate surrounding his larger statements on education reform in Boston which concern the potential to increase school funding and from where, charter schools versus public schools, the best route to improve/reform/eliminate consistently underperforming schools, etc., Mayor Menino’s linkage of education to civil rights stands beyond any debate. As we know, civil rights include protection from discrimination and equal access to healthcare and education, among other things intrinsic to our general growth and welfare. For Boston, whose public school system is still struggling and who has a large population of youth living below the poverty line, providing youth with a quality education becomes not only a natural right they deserve, but possibly the only proven key that they have to lead them down a pathway to success and out of the cycle of poverty.

Boston is a city with 19.5% of the population and 15.3% of families below the poverty line (United States Census Bureau, 2000), making access to a quality education especially urgent. Education is cited by many as one of the few proven pathways out of poverty (Sen, 2004,; Smith and Ashiabi, 2007; Vinovskis, 1992; Schieman and Plickert, 2008), so the inequity and instability still found in the Boston Public School (BPS) system which serves many low income youth is a titanic roadblock standing before these youth’s natural right to progress.

According to a Nov 1, 2009 article in the Boston Globe by James Vaznis (, the high school dropout rate in Boston Public Schools “stands at 7.6 percent, more than twice the state average and similar to the rate when the mayor took office in 1993” and although “state standardized test scores have been rising in Boston... the gains generally have not been significant enough to meet improvement goals set under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, causing nearly three-quarters of the city’s 135 schools to be identified last month as in need of improvement, corrective action, or restructuring - one of the highest rates in the state”. There are some positive statistics found for BPS, like an increase in youth attending college, but these are tempered with new data that shows that most of those youth in fact do not graduate from college. Beyond these sometimes contested and controversial statistics, a simple conclusion can be drawn that much more still needs to be done to improve the Boston Public School system and the future of our youth.

All youth deserve an equal opportunity for success and research shows that education is the key. The National Center for Children in Poverty shows that:

The higher the educational level, the less likely they are to be low income. In fact, 75 percent of children whose parents did not complete their high school education live in low-income homes. For those whose parents finished high school, 44 percent are considered low income, but of those who live in a home with parents who have at least some college, only 16 percent are considered low income.

(December 25, 2005, Colorado Greeley Tribune: “Education Paves the Way out of Poverty” (

If we combine the sobering statistics from BPS with data above, a pathway seems clear. In order to effectively fight poverty, especially among youth, it is imperative that we find a way to improve our school system to ensure that youth not only get a competitive education but the encouragement to go onto higher education or training.

A quality education youth deserve should provide them with 21st Century skills of communication, collaboration, problem solving, technology, and innovation plus the factual knowledge base to support success and the skills to obtain a lifelong education beyond the classroom. This quality education will further provide these youth with exposure to mentors and success stories they can relate to which encourages further achievement, and more importantly with opportunities and choices for further education and success which will steer the outcome of their lives. Both common sense and research show that with an education one makes more money and increases their social network and mobility (Schieman and Plickert, 2008). More money means being able to afford adequate nutrition, healthcare, and shelter, among other things; all of which allows for increased quality of life and lifespan. These feed into the cycle of growth in that nutrition, healthcare, and security allow youth to be free of stress and allow for an increase mental acuity in children who are born into this upwardly mobile family.

The debate on how to achieve this quality education for all will go on, but the pathway out of poverty is clear. The cycle can be broken in both Boston and also around the world. Knowledge is power and with this knowledge it becomes our responsibility as citizens to help achieve this goal, which is the basic human right of all students to receive a quality education.

To educate yourself on the state of the Boston Public School system and the ongoing debate surrounding education reform, check out a few of these links:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The TSA's New Rules

ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose writes:

This week the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) begins a new program to require extra screening for airline passengers from 14 countries that the U.S. government considers suspect.

While this move may protect President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano from the Dick Cheney-inspired political charges of being “soft on terrorism,” it is unlikely to do much to keep the rest of America safe.

The decision to pat down passengers from Nigeria and other “suspect” nations on the chance that they might have sewn explosives into their underwear is a clear example of fighting the last attack rather than the next one. U.S. airline passengers have been removing their shoes for screening since the attempt in 2001 by the “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid to set his shoes on fire aboard an airplane. If Reid had tried instead to light his eyeglasses on fire, we’d all be stumbling blindly through airport security without our glasses (but at least we would have our shoes on).

It is worth noting that Reid would not have been subject to the new TSA screening procedures, since he is a British national and the U.K. is not yet on the list of suspect nations. Nor would the new screening procedures have picked up the Egyptian, Lebanese or UAE national who allegedly helped stage the 9/11 attacks, since those countries didn’t make the list either. Countries on the suspect list include: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

Seeking safety by preparing for the last war is nothing new. The French tried to do it when they built the infamous Maginot Line, an array of concrete fortifications, tanks, artillery and machine gunners that the French government deployed after WWI to repel a German invasion. It failed when the Nazis overran France in two days, using the new tactics of the German blitzkrieg.

Moreover, any system based on technical detection alone is inherently flawed; machines are both indiscriminate and highly intrusive. Too often, they clog our intelligence system with false positives (up to 35% on the key terrorist watch list according to one inspector general report). Reliance on machines and intrusive pat-downs to catch the bad guys is particularly problematical when we expand the number of people under surveillance: the more searches you do, the less well you are able to do each one. The problem is exacerbated when your potential enemies are highly dispersed, ideologically driven, and armed with weapons such as box cutters and readily-available plastic explosives.

More than anything, the attempted December 25 attack reflects a profound failure of human intelligence. It has been reported that U.S. officials had sufficient individualized suspicion to subject Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab to a thorough screening, and perhaps to keep him off the airplane. His father had warned the U.S. government that his son intended to harm the United States; the British government denied Abdulmuttallab a visa when he applied falsely to a school in the U.K.; he then traveled to Yemen for explosives training, purchased his airline ticket with cash from a remote location, and showed up without luggage for an international flight. Despite access by U.S. officials to this information, Abdulmuttallab got on the plane.

It’s true, something was done -- his name was added to a “Terrorist Identities Database Environment” list. But this list expands at a rate of 1,600 names
per day, according to the FBI. It seems the current intelligence system is so overwhelmed with information that it is unable to process the data it has in hand. Simply adding more information and more suspects to more lists won’t work.

It’s time to treat terrorism as we do other crimes, focusing on individualized suspicion based on concrete actions – the traditional criminal standard for an investigation – to keep us safe. Profiling the 150 million people of Nigeria, not to mention millions of other people who happen to be born in a country on the suspect nations list, will do little more than create a diversion, keeping our eyes off the next attack by focusing instead on the last one.

Mass. High court rules that sheriff can’t charge prisoners to stay in jail

The following was contributed by Staff Attorney Laura Rotolo.

It was referred to as a “pay to stay” program. In 2002, Sheriff Thomas Hodgson of Bristol County, Mass., instituted mandatory fees for the men and women incarcerated at the county jail. They were charged $5 a day just for being in the jail, $5 for a haircut and $12.50 for GED tests. These charges would be taken out of the inmates’ money accounts, where typically family put in money to help their incarcerated loved ones buy items such as shoes, underwear, food and medication. By its own terms, the program was meant “to encourage inmates to be financially responsible” which would assist them “in preparation for their transition back” and was also meant to ”defray[] the cost of incarceration.”

The trouble was twofold. First, as the Supreme Judicial Court (Massachusett’s highest court) held <> today, the Sheriff did not have the legal authority to charge inmates these fees. The court said: “As an initial matter, we reject the sheriff’s suggestion made during oral argument that, because a sheriff holds a constitutional office, a sheriff may carry out all of the functions of his office … without any statutory authority.”

Second, as a matter of policy, the fees were in reality a back-door tax on the families who support inmates from the outside. Inmates rely on the cash their families can put into their jail accounts to buy all sorts of items that they need. Sneakers and underwear, for example. Thermal undershirts to keep warm underneath their prison clothes, which are just a thin layer of fabric – kind of like medical scrubs.

Most inmates in county jails supplement the food that is served by buying commissary items such as soups, snacks and drinks because even though the food that jails serve may meet caloric and nutritional requirements, you try eating bologna sandwiches and cold noodles three times a week.

Add to that the problem with over-incarceration <> in our country, which has more people incarcerated persons than any other nation in the world. Not to mention the racial disparities in our prison population and the overly-aggressive prosecutorial tactics <> that lead to the U.S. having almost one quarter of all incarcerated person in the world. Charging inmates a fee to be in jail only added insult to injury.

Our good friends at Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services <> brought this lawsuit and we congratulate them on this victory.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Intelligence over gadgets

Air Security is a topic we’re all extremely concerned about at the moment – after the Christmas Day incident, it seems that everyone is scared anew of terrorist threats in the skies. We recently commented on the incident and its implications for privacy and security, wherein we advocated for better intelligence and methods of screening that do not compromise passengers’ rights.

Well, it seems that many experts agree with our position. The Boston Globe published an excellent piece recently, titled “Information, not gadgets, seen as security solution” an idea that we’re happy to get behind.

The ACLU’s own Mike German was quoted in the article:

German, an FBI agent for 16 years, believes the money spent on behavior experts should instead be used to hire more antiterrorism investigators, who could identify dangerous people long before they get to an airport.

German also has little use for enhanced scanning technologies, including machines that will allow operators to see travelers’ bodies beneath their clothes. He said that it is uncertain whether the scanners would detect all kinds of explosives. “What’s the point of giving up our privacy,’’ German said, “if it doesn’t improve security?’’