Category: Liberties

Last-Minute Budget Bill Allows New Privacy-Invading Surveillance in the Name of Cybersecurity

The Intercept, By Jenna McLaughlin, December 18

In the wake of a series of humiliating cyberattacks, the imperative in Congress and the White House to do something — anything — in the name of improving cybersecurity was powerful.

But only the most cynical observers thought the results would be this bad.

The legislation the House passed on Friday morning is a thinly disguised surveillance bill that would give companies pathways they don’t need to share user data related to cyberthreats with the government — while allowing the government to use that information for any purpose, with almost no privacy protections.

Because Speaker of the House Paul Ryan slipped the provision into the massive government omnibus spending bill that had to pass — or else the entire government would have shut down — it was doomed to become law. (This post has been updated to reflect the vote, which was 316 to 113.)
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“Emergency” Measures May Be Written Into The French Constitution

The Intercept, By Martin Untersinger, December 12

JUST HOURS INTO A TERRORIST ATTACK that started on the evening of Nov. 13, and would eventually claim 130 lives, François Hollande announced that France was reestablishing border controls, and used a 1955 law to proclaim a state of emergency.

This 60-year-old law gives French law enforcement wide and sweeping powers, freeing them from much of the normal judicial oversight. The law gives prefects, the French government’s local representatives, the ability to place people under house arrest, based merely on the suspicion of the intelligence service that they pose a threat to national security. They can also order police raids targeting any place where they think information about terrorism may be found, without a warrant.

Initially intended to last 12 days, the state of emergency was extended on November 19 for an additional three months by both chambers of parliament. During the vote in the lower house, only six MPs voted against the extension.

In some instances, the concrete consequences of the state of emergency border on the Kafkaesque. There’s this man, who was challenging the requirement that he report frequently to a police station (one of the other features of the state of emergency law). Because his court hearing to challenge the requirement was late, he showed up 40 minutes past the time he was supposed to be at the police station. He was immediately detained. Then there’s this man, who was placed under house arrest in southwestern France because he was suspected of being a radical Muslim — except he is a devout Catholic. The police also raided a halal restaurant for no apparent reason.

Since last month’s attacks, there have been some 2,500 police raids, and nearly a thousand people have been arrested or detained. French local and national press are now full of reports of questionable police raids. So outrageous were some cases that the French Interior Ministry had to send a letter to all prefects reminding them to “abide by the law.”

Saudi Arabia elects first female politicians

At least four women elected to municipal councils in Saudi Arabia’s first poll open to female voters and candidates.

Al Jazeera, December 13

At least four women have won seats in Saudi Arabia’s municipal polls, the country’s first-ever elections open to female voters and candidates, local reports said.

The female candidates were elected to three councils – two in Ihsaa governorate and one each in Tobouk and Mecca, as votes were still being counted on Sunday.

Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi was elected to the council of Madrakah, a region in Mecca, the official SPA news agency reported, citing election commission president Osama al-Bar.

Saturday’s municipal poll, which was hailed by many as historic, saw a turnout of about 25 percent, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Riyadh Saad al-Saadi reported.

The fact that this was only the third time that Saudi citizens voted in an election meant that there was still little experience with the electoral process, Saadi said. The first local election was in 2005, and the second in 2011. Women were excluded in both.

Top judge leads calls to scrap mandatory daily Christian worship in UK schools

Influential report urges end to religious assemblies and raises concern over segregation

The Guardian, By Harriet Sherwood, December 5

Schools should no longer face a legal requirement to provide daily acts of worship of a Christian character, under radical reforms being proposed by a top-level inquiry into the place of faith in multicultural Britain.

The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, [organization website] led by former high court judge Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, also recommends curtailing the segregation of children by faith and a radical overhaul of the teaching of belief to make it more realistic and relevant in a diverse and increasingly secular country.

The weighty report is expected to set out proposals on the place of faith in the next coronation, as well as examining religion in relation to education, the criminal justice system, the media, social provision and politics. The commission’s patrons include the former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and its members are drawn from all major religions in the UK.

Among its proposals is the repeal of a legal requirement for most state schools to hold daily acts of collective worship that are wholly or mainly of a Christian character. Non-Christian faith schools are permitted to choose their own form of worship. “The arguments in favour of retaining compulsory Christian worship in UK schools are no longer … convincing,” the report says, according to draft seen by the Observer. Instead the commission endorses an inclusive “time for reflection”, embracing children of all and no faiths.

[…]

“It is in our view not clear that segregation of young people into faith schools has promoted greater cohesion or that it has not been socially divisive, leading to greater misunderstanding and tension,” the report says. “Selection by religion segregates children not only according to different religious heritage but also, frequently and in effect, by ethnicity and socio-economic background. This undermines equality of opportunity and incentivises parents to be insincere about their religious affiliation and practice.”

The report is to be published December 7th, a day which will live in Infamy.

Advocates: Supreme Court Ruling in Favor of Dollar General ‘Will Be an Attack on Tribal Sovereignty’

RH Reality Check, By Kanya D’Almeida, December 4

The Supreme Court on December 7 will hear oral arguments in a case involving a multi-billion dollar company and a Native American minor, who claims he was sexually assaulted by a store manager on Mississippi tribal lands in the summer of 2003.

While the case is ostensibly a challenge to tribes’ ability to adjudicate civil claims involving non-Natives—in this particular instance, a corporation whose store manager is accused of repeated sexual assaults of a then 13-year-old boy—legal experts say it goes to the very heart of tribal sovereignty, established via decades of settled law.

Women’s rights organizations are particularly concerned that a favorable ruling for the company could peel away the last remaining layer of legal protection that enables Native women to seek justice for sexual violence perpetrated by non-members in tribal courts.

Peaceful Paris climate gathering descends into clashes with police

Anti-capitalists take over climate protest to rail against ban on marches imposed after terror attacks on city.

The Guardian, By Karl Mathiesen, November 29

A day of celebration and hope in Paris disintegrated into rioting and clashes with police on Sunday, after anti-capitalists and anarchists hijacked a peaceful event organised by climate activists earlier in the day.

About 200 protesters, some wearing masks, fought with police on a street leading to la place de la République, which has become a gathering place for Parisians since the terror attacks on 13 November that killed 130 people. Witnesses said floral and other tributes were trampled in the melee.

About 100 protesters were arrested and the gathering was cleared by police using batons and teargas.

Earlier on Sunday, there had been a carnival atmosphere in the square before the climate summit due to begin on the city’s outskirts on Monday. Thousands of shoes, including a pair belonging to Pope Francis, had been symbolically laid in the square to represent a climate march that was cancelled by authorities after the terror attacks.

The Guardian Live Blog: Global climate march 2015: hundreds of thousands march around the world – as it happened

Twitter Has Censored Gory Images of the Paris Attacks

French authorities reportedly asked the company to block certain content.

Mother Jones, By Josh Harkinson, November 17

Over the past three days, Twitter has been preventing its users in France from viewing certain images and keywords related to the Paris attacks. The censorship, first reported today by the French newspaper Le Monde, applies to a keyword used by supporters of the Islamic State, tweets advocating terrorism, and, more controversially, graphic photographs taken inside the Bataclan after the terrorist attacks there left dozens dead.

On Sunday, France’s National Police used its Twitter account to ask social media users not to contribute to “the spread of photos of crime scenes,” out of “respect for victims and their families.” It encouraged Twitter users to send links to photos from the Bataclan massacre to PHAROS, a government website that compiles reports of illegal online activity.

On the same day, French law enforcement officials sent a request directly to Twitter, demanding the removal of certain tweets, according to Lumen, a Harvard University database of government takedown requests. The reasons the authorities gave for the request were a “serious attack on human dignity (images of cadavers)” and “secrecy of the investigation.”

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“France has become nothing short of a nightmare when it comes to free speech,” says Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University. “The French government has aggressively rolled back free speech protections for years. I never thought I would see the day when France would become the leader in censorship and the criminalization of speech, however, it has become precisely that.”

Mexico Supreme Court rules pot use is constitutional right

Landmark decision legalizes recreational use for marijuana club members only; move likely to force legislative action.

Al Jazeera, By Alfonso Serrano, November 4

Smoking marijuana is a basic human right. That extraordinary argument swayed Mexico’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, when it ruled that a federal health law prohibiting cannabis cultivation and personal use violates the constitution — an unprecedented decision that may trigger similar court appeals and pressure the country’s congress to weigh widespread legalization of the drug.

In a landmark interpretation of drug laws widely blamed for violence that has claimed thousands of lives in Mexico, a panel of five judges ruled in favor of a nonprofit marijuana club — the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Autoconsumption, or SMART — which argued that the health law violates the right to the “free development of one’s personality.” In essence, SMART lawyers successfully claimed that the constitution allows individuals the autonomy to experiment with the effects of cannabis despite the potential dangers the practice entails.

The 4-1 ruling followed an injunction filed by SMART against a 2013 ruling by Mexico’s health regulator that prohibited the organization from cultivating and consuming cannabis for recreational purposes.

“It’s a historic ruling because it centers the drug policy discussion on human rights, because it declares that prohibitions concerning personal use and cultivation are excessive,” said Lisa Sánchez, Latin America program manager for U.K.-based the nonprofit Transform Drug Policy Foundation. “This is a very important step. It not only gives us jurisprudence. It demonstrates an incoherence between the country’s most qualified jurists and congressional legislation. This should have an effect on Congress to reform [drug] policy as soon as possible.”

China to end decades-old one-child policy, bowing to demographic strain

Policy shift, which comes after family planning restrictions were eased in 2013, will allow couples to have two children.

Al Jazeera, October 29

China will ease family planning restrictions to allow all couples to have two children, ending the country’s decades-long one-child policy in a move to alleviate the looming demographic strain on the labor market.

The decision, announced by the ruling Communist Party, is a major liberalization of the country’s family planning restrictions, but follows months of rumors of a policy change. It also comes after the one-child rule was eased in late 2013, with Beijing saying then that it would allow more families to have two children providing that at least one parent was an only child.

“China will allow all couples to have two children, abandoning its decades-long one-child policy,” the official Xinhua new agency said in a short report.

The decision was contained in a Communist Party communiqué that followed a meeting of the party’s Central Committee on planning the country’s economic and social development through 2020.

Senate passes controversial cybersecurity bill Cisa 74 to 21

Senate votes in favor of bill critics including Edward Snowden say will allow the government to collect sensitive personal data unchecked

The Guardian, By Sam Thielman, October 27

The US Senate overwhelmingly passed a controversial cybersecurity bill critics say will allow the government to collect sensitive personal data unchecked, over the objections of civil liberties groups and many of the biggest names in the tech sector.

The vote on Tuesday was 74 to 21 in support of the legislation. Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders voted against the bill. None of the Republican presidential candidates (except Lindsey Graham, who voted in favor) were present to cast a vote, including Rand Paul, who has made privacy from surveillance a major plank of his campaign platform.

Ahead of the vote a group of university professors specializing in tech law, many from the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy, sent an open letter to the Senate, urging them not to pass the bill. The bill, they wrote, would fatally undermine the Freedom of Information Act (Foia).
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Amnesty International approves policy supporting decriminalization of sex trade

AP, August 12

London – Amnesty International approved a controversial policy Tuesday to endorse the de-criminalization of the sex trade, rejecting complaints from some women’s rights groups who say it is tantamount to advocating the legalization of pimping and brothel owning.

At its decision-making forum in Dublin, the human rights watchdog approved the resolution to recommend “full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work.” It argues its research suggests decriminalization is the best way to defend sex workers’ human rights.

“We recognize that this critical human rights issue is hugely complex and that is why we have addressed this issue from the perspective of international human rights standards,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “We also consulted with our global movement to take on board different views from around the world.”

After Freddie Gray

The Kingsley decision creates a crucial new constitutional protection against police abuse.

Slate, By Mark Joseph Stern, June 22

In April of 2010, five police officers put Michael Kingsley face down on a cement bunk in a holding cell, shocked him with a stun gun for five seconds, then left him alone, writhing in pain with his hands cuffed behind his back, for 15 minutes. Kingsley sued the officers, claiming they violated his constitutional rights by using excessive force. He lost.

On Monday, the Supreme Court gave Kingsley a second chance, ruling that the trial court gave the jury bad instructions. In a narrow sense, the decision turns on a technical question of intent. In a broader sense, though, the ruling is a blast of good news for opponents of police brutality—an emphatic declaration that the Constitution bars police from beating and abusing suspects in custody.

At the heart of Kingsley v. Hendrickson is a pretty straightforward question of intent. During the trial, the judge told the jury that Kingsley must lose unless he could prove the officers knew their actions could unduly harm Kingsley but went through with them anyway. Under that high standard, Kingsley lost. It’s incredibly difficult to prove law enforcement intentionally deprived suspects of their constitutional rights. Just ask the family of Michael Brown.

But Kingsley argued that he shouldn’t have to prove the officers were subjectively aware that their use of force was unreasonable. By forcing him to convince a jury that the officers had a malicious state of mind, Kingsley believed, the court made him clear too high a hurdle to vindicate his constitutional rights. Rather, Kingsley insisted that he should only have to prove that their use of force was objectively unreasonable to win his suit.

A bare majority of the Supreme Court agreed with Kingsley, sending the case back down to an appeals court to decide whether the error was so grave that Kingsley must be given a new trial. The dry majority opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer barely hints that the decision will have an impact beyond Kingsley’s case. But in reality, Kingsley constructs a crucial new constitutional protection against police abuse—a protection especially vital in the shadow of Freddie Gray’s shocking death.

With Little Fanfare, Mexican Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

New York Times, By Randcal C. Archibold * Pauline Villegas, June 14

Mexico City – His church turned him away, his family discouraged him from a public fight and the government of the state where he lives vowed it would never happen.

But it did. Hiram Gonzalez married his boyfriend, Severiano Chavez, last year in the northern state of Chihuahua, which, like most Mexican states, technically allows marriage only between a man and a woman.

Mr. Gonzalez and dozens of other gay couples in recent months have, however, found a powerful ally: Mexico’s Supreme Court.

In ruling after ruling, the court has said that state laws restricting marriage to heterosexuals are discriminatory. Though the decisions have been made to little public fanfare, they have had the effect of legalizing gay marriage in Mexico without enshrining it in law.

The Supreme Court Just Killed One of the Country’s Most Extreme Anti-Abortion Laws

Mother Jones, By Pema Levy, June 15

The Supreme Court killed one of the nation’s most extreme anti-abortion laws on Monday.

The justices declined to hear a case concerning the constitutionality of a North Carolina law that required women seeking an abortion to submit to a mandatory ultrasound. The law also compelled physicians to show women the images and describe the fetus in detail. Unlike similar laws in Texas, Wisconsin, and Louisiana that include some exceptions for victims of rape or incest, the North Carolina measure made no exceptions for rape, incest, health risks to the mother, or severe abnormalities in the fetus.

Most abortion cases center on the rights of pregnant women, but this one hinged on doctors’ First Amendment right to free speech—or in this case, their lack of freedom to choose what to tell their patients. The North Carolina law, passed in 2011 over the veto of then-Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, was struck down by a federal district court in North Carolina. The Fourth Circuit agreed that the “compelled speech provision” was unconstitutional. By refusing to take the case, the Supreme Court has assured that the law remains dead.

Bill C-51: Canada’s new McCarthy era where advocating for action against climate change is terrorism

ThinkPol.ca, By John Bennett, Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada, May 31

First, I’d like to acknowledge the terrible incidents that took place last fall here in Ottawa and in Quebec and share our deepest sympathies for the families. We are very much aware of the threats and support all appropriate measures to protect Canadians. However, we are concerned about Bill C-51 because it casts too broad a net and will very likely undermine the freedoms it is supposed to protect.

The Sierra Club Canada was founded back in 1892, making us probably the oldest conservation organization in North America. We’ve been active in Canada for over 50 years, and we have a number of chapters and groups across the country. We are a volunteer-led, democratic organization. Our members elect the board of directors in annual elections, and our volunteers work along with staff to preserve and protect our natural environment.

Although we employ a wide range of tactics to draw attention to important issues, it’s a clear policy of Sierra Club Canada Foundation to only engage in legal activities. To my knowledge, no one has broken the law in the name of the club in the last hundred years.
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