National security and civil liberties

  • May 8, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Jennifer Daskal, Assistant Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law. Follow her on Twitter @jendaskal. [Cross-posted at Just Security]

    Yesterday the Second Circuit declared the NSA’s bulk telephone metadata program unlawful.  Specifically, it ruled that it was unauthorized by section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act (and thus did not reach the constitutional law questions).  At the same time, however, it declined to grant an injunction that would have halted the program and instead sent the case back to the district court to reconsider the issues. As the Second Circuit recognized, many of the issues many of which could may be mooted by congressional action (or inaction) between now and June 1, when this key statutory provision is set to expire.

    The program’s continuing operation, at least for the next few weeks, has prompted commentators such as Orin Kerr to describe the ruling as “merely symbolic.”  I disagree.  To be sure, the telephony metadata program has long been given outsized attention relative to its impact and importance. But the ruling has significant import nonetheless not just for what it means for the continued operation of the program, but for the range of interconnected areas that the opinion addresses.  Below are four key, and substantive, implications of the ruling.

    1.      Collection Matters

    The Second Circuit resoundingly rejected the government’s argument that there is no cognizable injury until data is actually analyzed and reviewed.  According to the government,  appellants had no standing because they could not establish that the metadata associated with their telephone calls (i.e. the numbers called, received, and duration of the call) had actually been analyzed, rather than merely collected; absent subsequent review, the suffered no injury in fact.  The government makes analogous arguments with respect to other forms of bulk collection: Don’t worry we have robust limitations as to who can access the data and why.

    The Second Circuit was not persuaded, and rightly so.  As the Second Circuit concluded, collection is properly analyzed as a government seizure. If the collection is unlawful, then “appellants have suffered a concrete and particularized injury,” even without a subsequent review by human actors.  In other words, collection matters, even if the subsequent use restrictions are robust and strictly followed. That’s because we have a separate privacy interest not just in how the government uses our data, but in the government’s collection of our data in the first place.

  • May 7, 2015

    by Devon Ombres

    Today, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its unanimous opinion in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper, giving privacy advocates a victory they have long been seeking in holding that Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act does not authorize the bulk collection of telephone metadata.  Because the Second Circuit found that bulk telephone metadata collection is not permitted by the statute, the court did not reach the constitutional question of whether it would comport with the Fourth Amendment.  Additionally, despite vacating and remanding the lower court’s judgment, the Second Circuit did not enjoin the government from continuing the collection of metadata under Section 215, reasoning that the statute is set to expire on June 1, 2015 and there is significant legislative activity on the horizon that could impact the legal issues in play.

    As an initial matter, Judge Gerald Lynch’s opinion held that the ACLU and its affiliates were not precluded from bringing an action seeking an injunction against the government’s collection program.  Although the government argued that no private cause of action was permitted, the court held that the government’s reliance on “bits and shards of inapplicable statutes, inconclusive legislative history, and inferences from silence in an effort to find an implied revocation of the [Administrative Procedure Act’s] authorization of challenges to government action” was not sufficient to overcome the strong presumption against the preclusion of judicial review.

    As to the program’s validity under Section 215, the court reviewed whether the statute authorized the creation of a “historical repository of information” where the “sheer volume of information sought is staggering.”  The court did not accept the government’s argument that data collection under Section 215 is analogous to the permissiveness provided to prosecution requests for grand jury subpoenas, which cannot be denied unless a court determines “that there is no reasonable possibility that the category of materials the government seeks will produce information relevant to the general subject matter of the investigation.”  The court distinguished those subpoenas as bound by the facts of a particular investigation and a finite timeframe, while the Section 215 metadata collection program had no limitations on subject matter, individuals, or time, and there was no requirement of relevance to any particular set of facts.

  • May 7, 2015
    BookTalk
    Allegiance
    A Novel
    By: 
    Kermit Roosevelt

    by Kermit Roosevelt, Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School

    In 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana law that segregated railroad cars by race.  The Equal Protection Clause, the majority explained, prohibited discrimination that aimed to stigmatize or oppress a group, but racial segregation did not.  It was, instead, a reasonable, good faith response to the way things were.  In 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Court changed its mind.  Segregation was inherently stigmatizing, it said, and anything to the contrary in Plessy was overruled.

    This pattern ‒ initial acceptance of a certain kind of discrimination followed, years later, by its rejection ‒ has repeated itself with each major civil rights movement in our constitutional history.  Plessy yields to Brown; Bowers to Lawrence; Bradwell v. Illinois (which upheld Illinois’ exclusion of women from the practice of law) to modern sex equality cases like United States v. Virginia.

    But how does this constitutional progress occur?  It is not, I’ve suggested, the work of heroic philosopher judges, discerning the true meaning of the concept of equality.  Nor does it rely on diligent historians, uncovering the understandings of the people who ratified the Fourteenth Amendment.  It happens because social movements change the minds of the American people about what is or is not oppressive, stigmatizing, or invidious.  It is the judicial recognition of a change that occurs, first and primarily, outside the courts.

    That change is the expansion of what Attorney General Francis Biddle called “the compass of sympathy” ‒ the scope of our ability to look at others and see our shared humanity.  Social movements changed the outcome of constitutional cases by convincing Americans that those who had seemed different were not so unlike them after all; that the aspirations and desires of blacks, or women, or gays, were fundamentally the same as those of the rest of society, and that what these groups sought was not special rights or unique privilege but equality and inclusion.

  • March 12, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Peter Jan Honigsberg, professor of law at the University of San Francisco and founder and director of the Witness to Guantanamo project

    Most Americans pay scant attention to Guantanamo.  In fact, many Americans believe it is closed or only houses convicted terrorists.  However, Guantanamo is still open, holding 122 men, 55 of whom have been cleared for release.

    As little as Americans know about Guantanamo, they know even less about the lives of detainees after they have been transferred out of Guantanamo.  The more fortunate detainees are resettled to their home country, where they can reunite with and be supported by their families.

    However, a number of the detainees cannot return home because of the instability of their home country, their home country does not want them, or they may be tortured or executed on their return.  These men must wait for other nations to accept them.  Initially, nations wanted to help President Obama close Guantanamo and agreed to accept prisoners.  However, as confidence in Obama’s initial pledge to close the detention center has waned, fewer nations are willing to reach out and receive former detainees.

    Nevertheless, because of the tenacity of Special Envoy Cliff Sloan – the State Department official tasked with resettling detainees from July 2013 to December 2014 – several countries have accepted detainees in the past 18 months.  In November 2014, Slovakia resettled two detainees.  One was Hussein Al-marfadi, originally from Yemen.

    In February 2015, the Witness to Guantanamo project interviewed Al-marfadi in a town in central Slovakia.  Although physically and psychologically scarred from 14 years of torture and brutal treatment at Guantanamo, he is an engaging, even-tempered and thoughtful man.  He was never charged with a crime and had been cleared for release years ago.

    Al-marfadi is a born storyteller with an amazing aptitude for details.  Unlike many detainees the project has interviewed, Al-marfadi provided a day-by-day description of his experiences, including comprehensive accounts of the torture and unspeakable treatment he suffered.  Interviews with detainees generally last for two hours.  His interview covered six-plus hours over two days.  Al-marfadi told W2G that it was important for him to tell his complete story.  He explained that his story was not only for history but also for the men still in Guantanamo.

  • January 14, 2015
    BookTalk
    Reclaiming Accountability
    Transparency, Executive Power, and the U.S. Constitution
    By: 
    Heidi Kitrosser

    by Heidi Kitrosser, Professor of Law, University of Minnesota Law School

    It is fairly well known by now that the Obama administration has prosecuted more persons for allegedly leaking classified information to journalists than all previous administrations combined.  Yet much less attention has been paid to the legal justifications offered for these prosecutions. 

    Like its predecessors, the Obama administration has consistently maintained in litigation that communications conveying classified information to journalists are “wholly unprotected by the First Amendment.”  This argument, which has been largely successful in the handful of prosecutions to reach courts over the years, rests on the notion that speech about government activities – speech that ordinarily would be deeply protected from content-based prosecution under the First Amendment – loses all protection once marked by the classification stamp.  That stamp is wielded by the millions of persons with some form of classification authority, authority that stems primarily from presidential executive order.