Privacy rights

  • March 25, 2014

    This morning, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. Adam Liptak of The New York Times provides a helpful analysis of the cases while Robert Barnes at The Washington Post breaks down the “vocally devout justices” and the role religion may play in their decision. For more discussion, watch an ACS briefing on the dual challenges known as the “contraception mandate cases.”
    Twenty-three years ago, Anita Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. In an interview with Hill, Dahlia Lithwick at Slate reviews the new documentary Anita and describes how “Hill’s testimony had a huge impact on sexual harassment law, and in the public discourse.”
    Officials in Mississippi are waiting for approval from the state supreme court to execute Michelle Byrom, a mentally ill woman accused of murdering her husband. Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic explains why “the case of Michelle Byrom contains the unholy trinity of constitutional flaws sadly so common in these capital cases.”
    The Obama administration is expected to propose “an end to the [National Security Agency’s] mass collection of Americans' phone call data.” The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman has the story.
    Karen Tani at Legal History Blog reviews The Crusade for Equality in the Workplace: The Griggs v. Duke Power Story by the late Robert Belton.


  • December 16, 2013

    by Nicholas Alexiou

    In a potentially significant ruling, Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has found that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of phone metadata program likely violates the Fourth Amendment.

    In Klayman et al. v. Obama et al., Plaintiffs Larry Klayman (founder of the conservative Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch) and Charles Strange (father of a Michael Strange, a slain Cryptologist Technician with Navy SEAL Team VI, who has been a vocal opponent of President Obama) allege, in part, that the NSA collection program violates the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They sought a preliminary injunction that would prohibit the NSA from collecting the plaintiff’s call records under the existing collection program, require the destruction of all records already collected, and prohibit the “querying” of any metadata already collected.

    Judge Leon has found that plaintiffs have standing to challenge the NSA’s program, regardless of whether the program was in accordance with the rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), and that the plaintiffs have shown both “a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their Fourth Amendment claim, and that they will suffer irreparable harm absent preliminary injunctive relief.” Therefore, Judge Leon granted, in part, plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction; but recognizing the “significant national security interests at stake . . . and the novelty of the constitution issues” the injunction is stayed pending an appeal. Finding sufficient evidence to grant the preliminary injunction on Fourth Amendment grounds, Judge Leon did not address either the First or Fifth Amendment arguments.

    In analyzing the Fourth Amendment question, Judge Leon notes that the scope and technological sophistication of the NSA program far surpasses any other governmental surveillance program previously examined by the judiciary. In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled in Smith v. United States that an individual had no legitimate expectation of privacy in the numbers they dialed on their phone, for they were voluntarily submitting them to the telephone company. Therefore, a pen register installed by the police without a warrant was not barred by the Fourth Amendment as it did not constitute a “search.”

  • December 13, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Jordan Wells, Legal Fellow,  New York Civil Liberties Union

    Significant reforms are not far off for the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program, but you might not know that from headlines of late. Most press has focused on “l’affaire Scheindlin,” but the newspapers have buried the lead: The present and future status of the right of New Yorkers to be free from unconstitutional stops and seizures.

    In November, Bloomberg administration lawyers made a last-ditch attempt at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to undo the district court’s findings that the NYPD has engaged in widespread violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey chipped in their two cents, as the city—hoping to parlay the panel’s removal of Judge Scheindlin—made a bid for the appeals court to vacate the judge’s decisions. This was to no avail, and given the incoming mayor’s firm pledge to withdraw the appeal, the judge’s decisions are not going anywhere soon.

    The same cannot be said for the current stop-and-frisk regime. The Second Circuit’s order denying vacatur explicitly contemplates the possibility of an “application to us for a return of the cases to the District Court for the purpose of exploring a resolution,” and every indication is that the case is headed for such a resolution in the New Year. Practically, this will mean that the plaintiffs in Floyd (stop-and-frisk writ large), Ligon (concerning practices in and around “Clean Halls” buildings) and Davis (concerning practices in and around public housing) will seek to reach consensus with the City on needed reforms.

  • November 21, 2013
    Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, November 19, ACS held a panel discussion on constitutional protections of privacy in a time of rapid technological innovation and increasing surveillance, featuring Dahlia Lithwick of Slate, Chris Calabrese of the ACLU, Stephen Vladeck of American University Washington College of Law and others. You can watch video of the event here.
    These days, according to an array of public interest groups, civil liberties appear to be taking a hit from a growing and seemingly unwieldy national security apparatus.
    U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who misled Congress on domestic surveillance, attempted to quote Casablanca at a recent hearing about surveillance abroad. “My God, there’s gambling going on here!” he joked, mocking the umbrage of Senate Intelligence Committee who are regularly offered closed-door briefings on the government’s mass surveillance programs, even if they don’t always attend.
    And the Obama administration, which has touted itself as “the most open and transparent in history,” was forced into sunlight following extensive leaks by former C.I.A. analyst Edward Snowden.
    Potential harms to privacy do not end there. For example, students of all ages are being subjected to what the headmaster of Phillips Academy calls “National Security Agency-style surveillance.” Large corporations are accepting handouts from the government in exchange for turning over sensitive information. And even journalists, historically in the vanguard of free speech fights, are suggesting tools like anonymity are “a big mistake.”
  • October 16, 2013
    Guest Post
    by Gretchen Borchelt, Senior Counsel and Director of State Reproductive Health Policy at the National Women’s Law Center
    Politicians in Ohio have gone to great lengths to end abortion in their state. They’re not taking the blatantly unconstitutional route of North Dakota and Arkansas and just banning abortion outright in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. Rather, politicians in Ohio are doing what they can to make it as difficult and expensive as possible to get an abortion. They are also passing measures with the intent of coercing, shaming, and judging a woman seeking an abortion. Make no mistake: these attempts are just as harmful as an all-out ban on abortion, and are increasingly encroaching upon a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. 
    A pregnant woman in Ohio who decides on abortion faces multiple, politician-imposed, medically unnecessary steps. She must receive information intended to dissuade her from her decision and shame her for the deeply personal decision she has made. This now includes forcing her to visit the clinic so doctors can test for a fetal heartbeat and offer her the chance to hear it, and forcing her to listen to a description of the odds of carrying the pregnancy to term. She must then wait 24 hours before obtaining the medical care she originally sought. As an Ohio woman seeking an abortion said, “It’s a hard decision for anybody to make. To make it more difficult by passing these laws and making women feel guilty is terrible.” (And these new requirements are only part of the numerous abortion restrictions that became law in Ohio this year).
    Unfortunately, these efforts in Ohio are part of a national trend. Abortion opponents have continued to push the boundaries in an attempt to further challenge the core constitutional protections for a woman’s decision to have an abortion. In the last three years, states have passed a record number of abortion restrictions. These include requirements that a woman undergo a medically unnecessary, physically invasive ultrasound before obtaining an abortion, prohibiting a woman from purchasing a comprehensive health insurance plan that includes coverage of abortion, and imposing unnecessary, costly, and burdensome requirements on the clinics and doctors who provide abortions in an effort to shut them down.
    Why this uptick in anti-abortion legislation?