National security and civil liberties

  • April 10, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Christopher Wolf, Director, Privacy and Information Management Practice Group, Hogan Lovells LLP; Founder and Co-Chair, Future of Privacy Forum
     
    The Snowden revelations about NSA activities have brought government access to online data into the public eye over the past year. Allegations that surveillance programs may have impacted American citizens have led to public outrage. In response, the president has promised to reform the U.S. government surveillance apparatus to “provide greater transparency to our surveillance activities and fortify the safeguards that protect the privacy of U.S. persons.”  
     
    Long before the Snowden revelations, enhancing the privacy of U.S. persons was the focus of less-visible efforts to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a law enacted well before the Internet era that allows law enforcement access to a panoply of electronic information held by third-party information service providers without first obtaining a warrant.
     
    In December 2013, more than 100,000 Americans signed an online petition calling on the Obama administration to support ECPA reform. Although a warm spring finally is emerging in Washington, D.C., the White House has remained silent as reform bills (e.g., S. 607 and H.R. 1847) remain frozen in Congress. 
     
  • April 3, 2014

    Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a limit on the aggregate financial contribution an individual can make to candidates and party committees in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Democracy 21 discusses the “consequences of the disastrous decision” while the Brennan Center for Justice’s David Earley explains how the case reflects the “justices’ troubling vision of democracy.” At Demos, Alex Amend notes how the “McCutcheon Money” will discourage whatever “level-playing field” was left after Citizens United v. FEC. For more coverage of McCutcheon v. FEC, please visit ACSblog.
     
    James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, confirmed that “the National Security Agency has used a ‘back door’ in surveillance law to perform warrantless searches on Americans’ communications.” Writing for The Guardian, Spencer Ackerman and James Ball report on the political outcry surrounding this controversial “secret rule change.”
     
    At The Daily Beast, Geoffrey R. Stone—former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter as well as Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapteroffers insight into why “anti-gay marriage laws are irrational.”
     
    Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument for Wood v. Moss, a case asking whether Secret Service agents can be sued for treating protestors differently in a 2004 presidential visit to Oregon. At the Constitutional Law Prof Blog, Ruthann Robson—Faculty Advisor for the CUNY School of Law ACS Student Chapter—discusses how and if this case, along with the recent scandal surrounding President Obama’s personal security detail, should influence the “qualified immunity” the Supreme Court bestows on the Secret Service.

     

  • April 1, 2014

    At The Huffington Post, former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter as well as Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapter Geoffrey R. Stone explains why the “NSA deserves the respect and appreciation of the American people. But it should never, ever, be trusted.” More analysis on the NSA from Professor Stone can be found here.
     
    Delaware Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden granted probation for a man convicted of sexually abusing his three-year-old daughter.  Slate’s Emily Bazelon argues why this “mind boggling” case is “a part of a disturbing pattern of late in which judges treat sexual assault crimes as worthy only of a slap on the wrist.”
     
    At the Brennan Center for Justice, Lauren-Brooke Eisen describes how Attorney General Eric Holder is combating the troubling effects of America’s ‘tough on crime legacy’ by “lowering the suggested penalties for certain drug crimes.” 
     
    At Education Week’s School Law blog, Mark Walsh discusses the Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari to a Roman Catholic school’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
     
    At Bloomberg View Cass R. Sunstein picks the “the all-time greats” of the Supreme Court. 
  • March 28, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Professor of Law and an ACS Faculty Advisor at the University of Chicago Law School; former Chair, ACS Board of Directors
     
    This post originally appeared at The Daily Beast.
     
    President Obama announced this morning that he will propose legislation calling for significant changes in the NSA’s telephone metadata program. This is good news, indeed.
     
    The enactment of these proposals would strike a much better balance between the interests of liberty and security. They would preserve the value of the NSA’s program in terms of protecting the national security, while at the same time providing much greater, and much needed, protection to individual privacy and civil liberties.
     
    The proposals are based on recommendations made by the president’s five-member Review Group, of which I was a member. To understand why we came up with these suggestions, it is necessary first to understand how the program operates.
     
    Under the telephone metadata program, which was created in 2006, telephone service companies like Sprint, Verizon and AT&T are required to turn over to the NSA, on an ongoing daily basis, huge quantities of telephone metadata involving the phone records of millions of Americans, none of whom are themselves suspected of anything.
     
    Even though the program to-date has functioned properly, history teaches that there is always the risk of another J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon.
     
  • March 28, 2014
     
    Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed, pending litigation, a district court decision that had struck down parts of Texas’ controversial abortion law. The key provisions of the law, “pertaining to hospital privileges for physicians who perform abortions and protocols for abortion-inducing drugs,” have ignited ardent protest from Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups. Greg Botelho at CNN follows this decision.
     
    The Obama administration has announced its plan to reform the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records. Adam Serwer at MSNBC discusses how these changes will impact the NSA and the concerns that remain regarding “bulk preservation.”
     
    Writing for Balkinization, David Gans urges the Supreme Court to “recognize that the rights of Hobby Lobby’s thousands of employees—who have deeply held beliefs and convictions of their own—are at stake here, too.”
     
    Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the “preclearance” provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “a critical tool that prevented discrimination.” At The Root, Julian Bond urges Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act to ensure that “minorities have an equal voice in our democracy.”
     
    Josh Gerstein at Politico reports on the 13-month sentence that may await a former State Department contractor who leaked classified information to Fox News.