Posts tagged First Amendment
Posted by Laissez Faire Today
Law enforcement agencies are increasingly using sophisticated cameras, called “automated license plate readers,” or ALPRs, to scan and record the license plates of millions of cars across the country. These cameras, mounted on top of patrol cars and on city streets, can scan up to 1,800 license plate per minute, day or night, allowing one squad car to record more than 14,000 plates during the course of a single shift.
Photographing a single license plate one time on a public city street may not seem problematic, but when the data are put into a database, combined with other scans of that same plate on other city streets, and stored forever, it can become very revealing. Information about your location over time can show not only where you live and work, but your political and religious beliefs, your social and sexual habits, your visits to the doctor, and your associations with others. And according to recent research reported in Nature, it’s possible to identify 95% of individuals with as few as four randomly selected geospatial data points (location plus time), making location data the ultimate biometric identifiers.
To better gauge the real threat to privacy posed by ALPRs, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU of Southern California asked the LAPD and LA Sheriff’s Department for information on their systems, including their policies on retaining and sharing information and all the license plate data each department collected over the course of a single week in 2012.
After both agencies refused to release most of the records we asked for, we sued. We hope to get access to these data, both to show just how many data the agencies are collecting and to show how revealing they can be.
Automated license plate readers are often touted as an easy way to find stolen cars — the system checks a scanned plate against a database of stolen or wanted cars and can instantly identify a hit, allowing officers to set up a sting to recover the car and catch the thief. But even when there’s no match in the database and no reason to think a car is stolen or involved in a crime, police keep the data.
According to the LA Weekly, the LAPD and LASD together already have collected more than 160 million “data points” (license plates plus time, date, and exact location) in the greater LA area — that’s more than 20 hits for each of the more than 7 million vehicles registered in LA County. That’s a ton of data, but it’s not all — law enforcement officers also have access to private databases containing hundreds of millions of plates and their coordinates collected by “repo” men.
Law enforcement agencies claim that ALPR systems are no different from an officer recording license plate, time and location information by hand. They also argue the data don’t warrant any privacy protections because we drive our cars around in public. However, as five justices of the Supreme Court recognized last year in U.S. v. Jones, a case involving GPS tracking, the ease of data collection and the low cost of data storage make technological surveillance solutions such as GPS or ALPR very different from techniques used in the past.
Police are open about their desire to record the movements of every car in case it might one day prove valuable. In 2008, LAPD police Chief Charlie Beck (then the agency’s chief of detectives) told GovTech magazine that ALPRs have “unlimited potential” as an investigative tool. “It’s always going to be great for the black-and-white to be driving down the street and find stolen cars rolling around… But the real value comes from the long-term investigative uses of being able to track vehicles — where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing — and tie that to crimes that have occurred or that will occur.” But amassing data on the movements of law-abiding residents poses a real threat to privacy, while the benefit to public safety is speculative, at best.
In light of privacy concerns, states including Maine, New Jersey, and Virginia have limited the use of ALPRs, and New Hampshire has banned them outright. Even the International Association of Chiefs of Police has issued a report recognizing that “recording driving habits” could raise First Amendment concerns because cameras could record “vehicles parked at addiction-counseling meetings, doctors’ offices, health clinics, or even staging areas for political protests.”
But even if ALPRs are permitted, there are still common-sense limits that can allow the public safety benefits of ALPRs while preventing the wholesale tracking of every resident’s movements. Police can, and should, treat location information from ALPRs like other sensitive information — they should retain it no longer than necessary to determine if it might be relevant to a crime, and should get a warrant to keep it any longer. They should limit who can access it and who they can share it with. And they should put oversight in place to ensure these limits are followed.
Unfortunately, efforts to impose reasonable limits on ALPR tracking in California have failed so far. Last year, legislation that would have limited private and law enforcement retention of ALPR data to 60 days — a limit currently in effect for the California Highway Patrol — and restricted sharing between law enforcement and private companies failed after vigorous opposition from law enforcement. In California, law enforcement agencies remain free to set their own policies on the use and retention of ALPR data, or to have no policy at all.
Some have asked why we would seek public disclosure of the actual license plate data collected by the police — location-based data that we think is private. But we asked specifically for a narrow slice of data — just a week’s worth — to demonstrate how invasive the technology is. Having the data will allow us to see how frequently some plates have been scanned; where and when, specifically, the cops are scanning plates; and just how many plates can be collected in a large metropolitan area over the course of a single week. Actual data will reveal whether ALPRs are deployed primarily in particular areas of Los Angeles and whether some communities might, therefore, be much more heavily tracked than others. If these data are too private to give a week’s worth to the public to help inform us how the technology is being used, then isn’t it too private to let the police amass years’ worth of data without a warrant?
After the Boston Marathon bombings, many have argued that the government should take advantage of surveillance technology to collect more data, rather than less. But we should not so readily give up the very freedoms that terrorists seek to destroy. We should recognize just how revealing ALPR data are and not be afraid to push our police and legislators for sensible limits to protect our basic right to privacy.
Jennifer Lynch and Peter Bibring
A version of this article was originally posted here.
By Ron Paul
Homeschooling: The Future of Liberty
A common feature of authoritarian regimes is the criminalization of alternatives to government-controlled education. Dictators recognize the danger that free thought poses to their rule, and few things promote the thinking of “unapproved” thoughts like an education controlled by parents instead of the state. That is why the National Socialist (Nazi) government of Germany outlawed homeschooling in 1938.
Sadly, these Nazi-era restrictions on parental rights remain the law in Germany, leaving parents who wish greater control over their children’s education without options. That is why in 2006 Uwe and Hannalore Romeike, a German couple who wanted to homeschool their three children for religious reasons, sought asylum in the United States. Immigration judge Lawrence Burman upheld their application for asylum, recognizing that the freedom of parents to homeschool was a “basic human right.”
Unfortunately, the current US administration does not see it that way, and has announced that it is appealing Judge Burman’s decision. If the administration is successful, the Romeikes could be sent back to Germany where they will be forced to send their children to schools whose teaching violates their religious beliefs. If they refuse, they face huge fines, jail time, or even the loss of custody of their children!
The Administration’s appeal claims that the federal government has the constitutional authority to ban homeschooling in all fifty states. The truth is, the Constitution gives the federal government no power to control any aspect of education. Furthermore, parents who, like the Romeikes, have a religious motivation for homeschooling should be protected by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.
The federal government’s hostility to homeschooling is shared by officials at all levels of government. Despite the movement’s success in legalizing homeschooling in every state, many families are still subjected to harassment by local officials. The harassment ranges from “home visits” by child protective agencies to criminal prosecution for violating truancy laws.
Every American who values liberty should support the homeschoolers’ cause. If the government can usurp parental authority over something as fundamental as the education of their children, there is almost no area of parenthood off limits to government interference.
Homeschooling has proven to be an effective means of education. We are all familiar with the remarkable academic achievements, including in national spelling bees and other competitions, by homeshcooled children. In addition, homeschooled students generally fare better than their public school educated peers on all measures of academic performance.
It makes sense that children do better when their education is controlled by those who know their unique needs best, rather than by a federal bureaucrat. A strong homeschooling movement may also improve other forms of education. If competition improves goods and services in other areas of life, why wouldn’t competition improve education? A large and growing homeschooling movement could inspire public and private schools to innovate and improve.
When the government interferes with a parent’s ability to choose the type of education that is best for their child, it is acting immorally and in manner inconsistent with a free society. A government that infringes on the rights of homeschooling will eventually infringe on the rights of all parents. Homeschooled children are more likely to embrace the philosophy of freedom, and to join the efforts to restore liberty. In fact, I would not be surprised if the future leaders of the liberty movement where homeschooled.
I believe so strongly in the homeschooling movement that I have just announced my own curriculum for homeschooling families. Please visit this revolutionary new project at http://www.ronpaulcurriculum.com.
This column may be reprinted and/or redistributed by electronic means provided author credit is given and no alterations made.
By Steve Watson
A woman who stood up to TSA screeners and refused to allow them to grope her or her 14 year old daughter has been found guilty of “disorderly conduct” and sentenced to one year of probation by a court in Tennessee.
Back in July 2011, Andrea Fornella Abbott of Clarksville, was arrested by Nashville airport authorities for expressing outrage at the TSA procedures.
A police report stated that Abbott would not allow her daughter to be “touched inappropriately” or have her “crotch grabbed”. Abbott also refused to submit to a full body scan, saying that she did not want her or her daughters’ naked bodies revealed by the scanner.
The report noted that she attempted to take cell phone video of the incident but was prevented from doing so by the TSA screeners.
When police were called to the scene, Abbott reportedly cursed at them and referred to the TSA screeners as pedophiles, leading to her arrest.
The Associated Press reports that the prosecution argued that Abbott’s behavior “prevented others from carrying out their lawful activities,” and held up two security lines for thirty minutes.
“You can speak your mind, but you can’t do it in an illegal manner,’ said Assistant District Attorney Megan King, adding “What the defendant did was a crime.”
The defense argued that Abbot was exercising her right to free speech. “Telling a police officer your opinion, even in strong language, to me that’s a First Amendment right,” Abbot’s attorney Brent Horst told reporters.
Abbott herself admitted that she may have cursed at police officers, but considered the exchange to be a “normal conversation” regarding the inappropriate nature of pat-downs on children.
Horst presented surveillance video of the incident, and claimed that Abbot was the one being yelled at by police. Although the video had no audio, it showed that other passengers were walking around Abbot and the police officers, and that security lines were still moving.
“It’s clear from the video … she wasn’t preventing anything,” Horst said. In closing arguments the attorney stated “Since 9/11, we’re losing a lot of freedom, and we have to draw the line somewhere,” before praising Abbot for standing on principle.
By Liz Klimas
Although Carlos Miller, who maintains the advocacy blog Photography Is Not a Crime on Pixiq, generally writes about instances when police have taken cameras and deleted pictures or video footage, this time he’s bringing up a case involving the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.
Miller was emailed by St. Kitts-bound passenger Tom McCormack recounting how the TSA in Puerto Rico confiscated and allegedly deleted footage he was taking of them before returning his device. He began filming the TSA checkpoint when he was approached by an agent who said he had to stop. To this he responded that it was his Constitutional right, which the agent seemed to accept.
Continuing through security though, after passing through the X-ray scanner, he says he was approached by two female agents and, wanting to film the encounter, took out his camera again. Here’s how he describes what happened next:
Town Bans ‘F*ck’ and Other Potty Words — First Amendment Rights Be Damned
On Monday night, residents of Middleborough, Massachusetts, voted 183-50 to approve a proposal allowing the police to issue $20 fines to people who use profane language in public. Though Yahoo News reported that the ban is specifically intended to stop teenagers from using profane language in public parks and the town center, there is apparently nothing preventing police from enforcing the ban much more broadly. Speaking in favor of the ban, one resident lamented foul language as “inappropriate,” and noted, “I’m sure there’s going to be some fallout, but I think what we did was necessary.”
Some fallout?? The implications of Middleborough’s new law are truly alarming. Patently ignoring the Constitution, raising complex questions about what is offensive enough to censor, and stoking continued concerns about the use of government to further subjective values is substantially more than some fallout.
One resident who supports the new law said, “I don’t care what you do in private. It’s in public what bothers me.” Yet eliminating things that bother people is not, nor should it be, the point of the American legal system. If it was, plagues like traffic jams and people who say “supposebly” would have been banned long ago.
According to freedomforum.org, a nonpartisan, pro-First Amendment group, the First Amendment’s free speech protections can be restricted only in certain special cases, like when language will create a dangerous situation or incite immediate violence. The Supreme Court has never ruled that “bothering people” justifies curbing free speech rights. Upon hearing about the new law, ACLU of Massachusetts legal director Matthew Segal stated plainly that people could “end up getting fined for constitutionally protected speech,” effectively nullifying the Constitution’s free speech protection.
Nutrition board says he needs a license to advocate dietary approaches
Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes makes it a misdemeanor to “practice dietetics or nutrition” without a license. According to the law, “practicing” nutrition includes “assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups” and “providing nutrition counseling.”
Steve Cooksey has learned that the definition, at least in the eyes of the state board, is expansive.
When he was hospitalized with diabetes in February 2009, he decided to avoid the fate of his grandmother, who eventually died of the disease. He embraced the low-carb, high-protein Paleo diet, also known as the “caveman” or “hunter-gatherer” diet. The diet, he said, made him drug- and insulin-free within 30 days. By May of that year, he had lost 45 pounds and decided to start a blog about his success.
But this past January the state diatetics and nutrition board decided Cooksey’s blog — Diabetes-Warrior.net — violated state law. The nutritional advice Cooksey provides on the site amounts to “practicing nutrition,” the board’s director says, and in North Carolina that’s something you need a license to do.
Unless Cooksey completely rewrites his 3-year-old blog, he could be sued by the licensing board. If he loses the lawsuit and refuses to take down the blog, he could face up to 120 days in jail.
The board’s director says Cooksey has a First Amendment right to blog about his diet, but he can’t encourage others to adopt it unless the state has certified him as a dietitian or nutritionist.
by: J. D. Heyes
How out-of-hand has the “war on terror” become? So much so that now, the Department of Homeland Security has taken to monitoring social media Web sites trolling for would-be terrorists, as if the world’s most dangerous killers were Tweeting their plans.
Only, DHS isn’t just trolling for terrorists by monitoring Twitter and Facebook. No, the department – which at least one presidential contender, Rep. Ron Paul, believes is out of control – is wasting valuable and limited assets evaluating media reports, organizations and news sites like The Drudge Report for anti-government attitudes and social unrest.
But wait, you ask. What does monitoring American-based Web sites and social media applications have to do with the war on terror? Probably nothing, but you may remember that the Department of Homeland Security was born out of legislation passed immediately after the 9/11 attacks to protect “the American people from terrorist threats.”
First Amendment, anyone?
You’re not the only one who isn’t buying the spying. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a watchdog organization looking to protect civil liberties, privacy, the First Amendment and constitutional values in an increasingly interconnected world, has convinced a House subcommittee that the DHS activity is suspicious enough to warrant closer examination. The hearings come on the heels of the group’s acquisition of some 300 pages of DHS documents resulting from a Freedom of Information Act request which lay bare the agency’s “intelligence gathering” activities online.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring of political dissent has no legal basis and is contrary to core First Amendment principles,” says EPIC’s director, Ginger McCall, who says a government agency that monitors what ordinary Americans are saying about federal policies goes too far, and has direct implications on freedom of speech.
“The language in the documents makes it quite clear that they are looking for media reports that are critical of the agency and the U.S. government more broadly,” she said. “This is entirely outside of the bounds of the agency’s statutory duties.”
EPIC says documents it has obtained show that DHS has used contractors to monitor Twitter, Facebook, Hulu, Wikileaks, Drudge and other news sites including the Huffington Post. The documents reveal that the contractors were required to provide DHS with reaction regarding potential “threats and hazards,” as well as any media reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government and the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) ability to prevent, protect and respond, to recovery efforts or activities related to any crisis or events which impact National Planning Scenarios.”
The program should also highlight “both positive and negative reports on FEMA, C.I.A., C.B.P., ICE, etc., as well as organizations outside of D.H.S.,” the documents said.
Looking over your shoulder
Now, DHS officials admit that, yes, the agency was monitoring the Web for any negative opinion of the government. But they said the operation was only undertaken as a one-and-done test, then quickly dropped, because it didn’t meet “operational requirements or privacy standards” which “expressly prohibit reporting on individuals’ First Amendment activities.”
While attending a continuing legal education course today, I learned of an interesting case recently issued by the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. I have never considered that arguments might arise over what the framers meant by “the people” and thought you, too, might find this an interesting issue.
In US v. Portillo-Munoz, 2011 WL 2306248 (5th Cir., June 13, 2011), at issue was the Constitutionality of a federal statute, 18 USC § 922(g)(5), making it a crime for an illegal alien to possess a firearm. Portillo-Munoz came to Texas illegally and took employment on a farm outside of Dimmit. He carried a .22 caliber gun for protecting himself and protecting his employer’s chickens from coyotes. He had no criminal history.
The 5th Circuit held, with Justice Dennis dissenting, that the statute was not a violation of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. The majority held that the Second Amendment’s use of “the people” referred only to certain people excluding illegal aliens and that “the people” did not mean the same thing wherever it is used in the Constitution. The majority wrote:
In United States v. Verdugo–Urquidez, the Court held that its analysis of the Constitution “suggests that ‘the people’ protected by the Fourth Amendment, and by the First and Second Amendments, … refers to a class of persons who are part of a national community or who have otherwise developed sufficient connection with this country to be considered part of that community.” 494 U.S. 259, 110 S.Ct. 1056, 1061, 108 L.Ed.2d 222 (1990). Portillo relies on Verdugo-Urquidez and argues that he has sufficient connections with the United States to be included in this definition of “the people,” but neither this court nor the Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment extends to a native and citizen of another nation who entered and remained in the United States illegally. 1
Moreover, even if there were precedent for the proposition that illegal aliens generally are covered by the Fourth Amendment, we do not find that the use of “the people” in both the Second and the Fourth Amendment mandates a holding that the two amendments cover exactly the same groups of people. The purposes of the Second and the Fourth Amendment are different. The Second Amendment grants an affirmative right to keep and bear arms, while the Fourth Amendment is at its core a protective right against abuses by the government. Attempts to precisely analogize the scope of these two amendments is misguided, and we find it reasonable that an affirmative right would be extended to fewer groups than would a protective right.
Posted on July 8, 2011 at 8:55pm by Madeleine Morgenstern
KrisAnne Hall was fired from her job at the state attorney’s office last year for speaking about the Constitution at tea party rallies. She settled her federal case against her former employer on Thursday. (Courtesy photo)
A former Florida assistant state attorney who lost her job over teaching about the Founding Fathers and the Constitution settled her case for an undisclosed amount Thursday against the Florida state attorney who fired her.
KrisAnne Hall was fired last year after participating in a number of political speaking engagements, including at tea party rallies and on talk radio, in which she discussed her originalist views of the Constitution. Her boss, State Attorney Robert “Skip” Jarvis, said he received a complaint about her activities and gave what Hall described as an “ultimatum,” telling her to choose between her speaking engagements and her job.
“I told him I could not make that choice. I believe that my First Amendment right is my right and I would not stop speaking,” Hall said in an interview with The Blaze.
Hall subsequently filed a federal lawsuit after her dismissal, alleging her rights had been violated and Jarvis had no standing to order her to stop speaking on her own time. Both parties agreed to settle the case Thursday.
Hall would not discuss details of the settlement, except to say she was very satisfied and had her attorney fees paid. She will not be returning to the state attorney’s office.
“I believe strongly that I was within my constitutional right and within Supreme Court precedent,” she said.
Since her firing, Hall said she has “made it a ministry” during the past year to continue to lecture about the Founders’ original intent. She published a book, “It’s Not a Living Breathing Document: Reclaiming Our Constitution” and is working on another one about the Second Amendment. She has also produced a workshop teaching about the Bill of Rights.
“We are sorely lacking in history,” Hall said. “Part of where we have fallen amiss is the fact that we don’t teach history anymore and we have perpetuated this sort of lie that the Constitution is a living, breathing document.”
She estimated that she speaks to about eight groups per month. Her website states, “Civic groups, schools, homeschoolers, churchs…any group, any size.”
“I really believe if we are going to make serious progress in this country we need to teach people,” Hall said. ”Change is not what we need to restore our country…you cannot turn around a ship without a compass.”
“I didn’t choose for this to happen,” she said. “But it’s been a blessing in disguise.”