OK Sheriff LARPs "Welcome to Nightvale"


Logan County, Oklahoma Sheriff Jim Bauman created an extensive set of secret files on the citizens in his jurisdiction, inadvertently recreating Welcome to Nightvale's running gag about the Sheriff's Secret Police -- but the ACLU isn't laughing, they're suing.

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SWAT teams claim to be private mercenaries, immune to open records laws


The ACLU reports [PDF] that when it made Freedom of Information requests for Massachusetts SWAT team records, the SWATs claimed that because they were organized as "law enforcement councils" (jointly owned by many police departments, with additional federal funding) that they were not government agencies at all, but rather private corporations, and not subject to open records laws.

SWATs are the white-hot center of the increasingly brutal and militarized response of US police forces, which have outfitted themselves with ex-Afghanistan/Iraq military materiel and have deployed it in an escalating violent series of attacks, largely as part of the war on drugs. As Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post, the SWATs' claim to be private companies doesn't pass the giggle test: they are funded by the government, pay government employees, and do the government's business.

The argument boils down to this: we are not the police, we are private mercenaries armed with automatic weapons and military-grade vehicles and equipment, and when we attack and kill in the streets of American cities, we do so as private soldiers who happen to be funded by the police departments' budgets.

The ACLU is suing the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council to challenge this ruse, but even if they win, this should be setting off alarm bells for anyone who believes in good government and responsible policing. The cornerstone of democratic legitimacy is a duty to the public, with all the transparency and respect that implies. When police forces up and down the state structure themselves to create and exploit a loophole that lets them obscure the details of their most violent, most spectacular screw-ups -- which generally result in gruesome injuries and deaths to innocent members of the public -- there is no way they can claim to be acting in the public interest.

The fact that the city governments that oversee these departments and the federal agencies that fund the LECs have been complicit in this suggests that this isn't a matter of police overreach, but rather is a policy that goes literally all the way to the top of the policing regulatory structure in America.

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Lurking inside Obama's secret drone law: another secret drone law


Remember the secret memo explaining the legal justification for assassinating Americans with drones that the ACLU forced the Obama administration to release? Turns out that that memo relies on another secret memo that the Obama administration is also relying on. Obama is a no-fooling Constitutional scholar; you'd think that he'd be wise to the idea that secret law is not law at all.

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A letter from Edward Snowden and the ACLU

It’s been one year.

Technology has been a liberating force in our lives. It allows us to create and share the experiences that make us human, effortlessly. But in secret, our very own government—one bound by the Constitution and its Bill of Rights—has reverse-engineered something beautiful into a tool of mass surveillance and oppression. The government right now can easily monitor whom you call, whom you associate with, what you read, what you buy, and where you go online and offline, and they do it to all of us, all the time.

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Snowden, one year after: Now we know the NSA's secrets

Josh from the ACLU writes, "To mark this Thursday's one-year anniversary of the first NSA revelation from Edward Snowden, we've made a very cool video showing what's happened so far (and yes that is Snowden's voice at the end). You've not seen an NSA video like this before. We've also created a guide (PDF) to what we think needs to be done for surveillance reform by Congress, the president, the courts, and tech companies."

They Knew Our Secrets. One Year Later, We Know Theirs.

Edward Snowden to speak at SXSW


The ACLU and SXSW will host a video chat with Edward Snowden on Monday, during the day's civil-liberties-focused program track. I'll be speaking immediately before Snowden, with Barton Gellman, and we will be staying for the Snowden event. Snowden will be interviewed by ACLU technologist Christopher Soghoian, and the event is moderated by the ACLU's Ben Wizner. I hope to see you there -- it's why I'm flying to Austin.

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Video from a dystopian future: how location data can be abused

The ACLU has produced a video based on its Meet Jack. Or, What The Government Could Do With All That Location Data slide presentation from 2013. It's a chilling and sometimes funny look at the way that location data can be used to compromise you in ways large and small. As Josh from the ACLU notes, "It's especially interesting after the news yesterday about the DHS plan for a national license plate location history database (which got scrapped after it was exposed)."

Meet Jack. Or, What The Government Could Do With That Location Data (Thanks, Josh!)

Parents of Buddhist student sue "Bible Belt" Louisiana school over forced prayer, religious discrimination

The ACLU is representing Scott and Sharon Lane, the parents of a child known in the proceedings as "CC," in a case against the Sabine Parish, Louisiana School Board, where their child was ridiculed for his Buddhist faith, and was forced to endure Christian indoctrination, including forced prayer, in the class. They say that their son's sixth grade curriculum included exam questions like "ISN'T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" (the correct answer was "LORD"). The school superintendent told them that they had no business being upset by this, because the school is in the Bible Belt, and he recommended sending the child to a school 25 miles away where there were "more Asians."

The ACLU is calling on supporters of the Lanes and CC to sign a petition to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking for a "an immediate investigation into unlawful religious discrimination in Sabine Parish public schools."

To the right, the charming logo of Negreet High, whose school team is the "Negreet Indians."

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Finally, a legal challenge to US warrantless wiretapping that beats the Catch-22


Last October, the Justice Department made a seemingly cosmetic change to its procedures related to NSA surveillance: requiring prosecutors to tell defendants when the evidence against them originated with a warrantless wiretap (remember that the NSA made a practice of handing warrantless wiretapping data over to the DEA and other agencies, who would then request a warrant in order to create a plausible, public source of evidence).

But that change made all the difference. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that you couldn't sue the government over warrantless wiretapping unless you had direct evidence that you'd been spied on. The catch? The only way to get evidence that you'd been spied on was to sue the government, which you couldn't do without evidence.

The first defendant to be notified that the case against him was built on warrantless wiretaps is an Uzbek human rights activist who lives in Colorado, named Jamshid Muhtorov. Under the new rules, Muhtorov now has the evidence he needs to challenge the government's program of warrantless surveillance -- and that's just what he's doing. The ACLU has taken his case, and have filed a motion [PDF] challenging the evidence against him.

A win for Muhtorov would be a win for America, and for everyone who believes that you can't fight crime while ignoring the law.

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Insane Clown Posse and ACLU sue FBI over calling juggalos a gang


The ACLU and members of the Insane Clown Posse have filed a lawsuit against the FBI over its classification of the Juggalos (ICP fans) as a gang. Once the FBI calls your subculture a gang, you lose a bunch of rights: the cops treat visible symbols of affiliation as probable cause for stop-and-search, you're prohibited from joining the military, and you are generally discriminated against by government officials.

The best part of the whole thing is that the plaintiffs came to the press-conference in full ICP makeup.

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FBI agent tries to copyright super-secret torture manual, inadvertently makes it public

The ACLU has spent years in court trying to get a look at a top-secret FBI interrogation manual that referred to the CIA's notorious KUBARK torture manual. The FBI released a heavily redacted version at one point -- so redacted as to be useless for determining whether its recommendations were constitutional.

However, it turns out that the FBI agent who wrote the manual sent a copy to the Library of Congress in order to register a copyright in it -- in his name! (Government documents are not copyrightable, but even if they were, the copyright would vest with the agent's employer, not the agent himself). A Mother Jones reporter discovered the unredacted manual at the Library of Congress last week, and tipped off the ACLU about it.

Anyone can inspect the manual on request. Go see for yourself!

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ACLU's Santa Claus is Coming to Town video

Jack from the ACLU sez, "We just posted a parody music video that pokes fun at the NSA with some holiday spirit (and some 'Jackass' thrown in for good measure)."

The NSA is Coming to Town (Thanks, Josh!)

Life from the near future of location surveillance


In Meet Jack. Or, What The Government Could Do With All That Location Data, the ACLU's Jay Stanley presents a slide deck from the near future in which a government intelligence service presents a glowing account of how it convicted "Jack R Benjamin" of DUI pre-crime, by watching all the places he went, all the people he interacted with, and using an algorithm to predict that he would commit a DUI, and, on that basis, to peer into every corner of his personal life.

The use of the slide deck is inspired here, echoing as it does the Snowden leaks (Snowden had been tasked with consolidating training documents from across the NSA, which is why he had access to such a wide variety of documents, and why they're all in powerpoint form). And the kind of data-mining here is not only plausible, it's likely -- it's hard to imagine cops not availing themselves of this capability.

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Sign the ACLU petition to reform American electronic spying laws

Sandra from the ACLU writes, "As the scope and depth of the NSA's spying continues to grow, we cannot forget about similar privacy violations committed by state and local police. The primary law protecting against such violations -- The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) -- was passed in 1986. Technology has evolved quite a bit since then, as you may have noticed. ECPA, unfortunately, has not, allowing local, state, and federal law enforcement to access our sensitive data in the cloud without a warrant."

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Feds subject drug suspect to vaginal/anal probe, X-ray, CT Scan, without a warrant -- find nothing


The ACLU is representing a New Mexico woman in her fifties who was subjected by federal agents to a two-handed (!) vaginal and anal examination, an involuntary X-ray and CAT scan, and was forced to defecate in front of strangers. The woman was suspected of being in possession of drugs, on the basis of a drug-dog alert at the Juarez/El Paso border-crossing. No drugs were found. The federal agents -- it's not clear what agency they were with -- did not obtain a warrant. The doctors at University Medical Center in El Paso performed the procedures without the victim's consent, including the CT scan, which subjects people to a high dose of potentially harmful radiation.

The ACLU of New Mexico is certainly developing some deep expertise on the subject of involuntary, drug-war anal probes: see this earlier story by Mark.

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