ACSBlog

  • April 14, 2014

     
    The Justice Department has accused the Albuquerque Police Department of “a pattern or practice of use of excessive force that routinely violated people’s constitutional rights.” Fernanda Santos at The New York Times reports on the 16-month investigation which found that “too often, the officers kicked, punched and violently restrained nonthreatening people … many of whom suffered from mental illnesses,” while other victims “were disabled, elderly or drunk.”
     
    Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit heard oral arguments in Kitchen v. Herbert, a case challenging Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. State officials filed an appeal after the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah held the ban to be unconstitutional last December. Writing for Jost on Justice, Kenneth Jost comments on the legal and “unmistakably personal” implications of the case.
     
    The Federal Trade Commission won an important victory in a case that challenged its authority to “regulate data security under the FTC Act.” Daniel Solove at Concurring Opinions breaks down Federal Trade Commission v. Wyndham Worldwide Corporation, et al.
     
    In a study conducted by the Center for American Progress, Jenny DeMonte and Robert Hanna reveal that in some areas, impoverished students are “less likely to receive highly effective teaching.” In their report, DeMonte and Hanna provide ways to combat this troubling inequality.  
     
    In an excerpt from Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution highlighted in The Washington Post, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens discusses the recent shooting massacres, the influence of the National Rifle Association and “the five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment.”
  • April 11, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Sandra Fulton, Legislative Assistant, American Civil Liberties Union

    During the long, hard fight to bring the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) into the 21st century, advocates have run into the most unlikely of opponents: the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Yes, the SEC—the agency charged with regulating the securities industry—has brought the ECPA update to a screeching halt. Yesterday the ACLU, along with the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Tax Reform and the Center for Democracy and Technology, sent the agency a letter calling them out on their opposition.

    ECPA, enacted in 1986, is the main statute protecting our online communications from unauthorized government access. Unfortunately, as our lives have moved online the law has remained stagnant, leaving dangerous loopholes in our privacy protections. A broad coalition including privacy and consumer advocates, civil rights organizations, tech companies, and members of Congress from both parties has been pushing for an update. Strong bipartisan legislation to update the law has over 200 sponsors and is making serious headway in Congress. Even the Department of Justice—the law enforcement agency with arguably the most to lose in such an update—testified that some ECPA loopholes need to be closed.

    But the SEC is pushing back – essentially arguing that they should get to keep one of the loopholes that have developed as the law has aged. When ECPA was passed in 1986, Congress developed an elaborate framework aimed at mirroring existing constitutional protections. Newer email, less than 180 days old, was accessible only with a warrant. Based on the technology of the time, older email was assumed to be “abandoned” and was made accessible with a mere subpoena. Similarly, another category of digital records, “remote computing services,” was created for information you outsourced to another company for data processing. Seen as similar to business records, it could also be collected with a subpoena under the law.

    Fast forward to the 21st Century. Now we keep a decade of email in our inboxes and "remote computing services” has morphed into Facebook keeping all our photos or Microsoft storing our Word documents in their cloud. Suddenly the SEC can access content in way it never could before.

  • April 11, 2014
     
    This was a slow week for judicial nominations. On Tuesday April 8, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture on the nomination of Michelle Friedland to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On Thursday, April 10, the Senate voted 56-41 in favor of cloture on her nomination. Because she is nominated to a circuit court, Senate rules require 30 hours of post-cloture debate before a final confirmation vote, unless there is unanimous consent to yield back that time. As they have done since the November rules change, Senate Republicans refused to yield. Sen. Reid had said that he would keep the Senate in session for an usual Friday afternoon vote but he changed course Thursday evening, announcing that the confirmation vote for Friedland would take place on Monday, April 28, the first day the senators return from a two week recess.
     
    Also this week, there were conflicting reports about President Obama’s progress on filing judicial vacancies. Some argued that he has been as successful as President Bush because of the number of nominees confirmed at this point in their presidencies. Others, however, argued that raw numbers do not offer an accurate comparison because President Obama has seen more vacancies, yet had a lower percentage of his nominees confirmed.
     
    There are now a total of 85 current vacancies and 23 future vacancies (including three vacancies that will become current if a sitting district court judge is elevated to a circuit court). There are 50 pending nominees, two of whom are nominated to future vacancies. There are 36 judicial emergencies. Thirty-one nominees remain pending on the Senate floor.
     
    For more information on judicial nominations, see the latest from “In the News” and “Recommended Readings” on JudicialNominations.org, a project of ACS.
  • 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 10, 2014
     
    The Justice Department has long faced criticism from civil rights activists for its racial profiling procedures. In response, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has proposed revisions to the racial profiling rules which would “expand the definition of prohibited profiling.” However, many argue that the DOJ’s new efforts would “allow the F.B.I. to continue many, if not all, of the tactics opposed by civil rights groups.” Matt Apuzzo at The New York Times has the story.
     
    Earlier this morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit heard the “first appellate case in the nation on gay marriage rights since last summer’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling.” Led by attorney Peggy A. Tomsic, the plaintiffs shared with the judges “the ‘human reality’ at the heart of the case” and explained how Utah’s ban on gay marriage "has ‘cemented’ discrimination against same-sex couples.” Brooke Adams at The Salt Lake Tribune reports on the argument.
     
    The Obama administration is “relinquishing oversight” over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Gautham Nagesh at The Wall Street Journal explains how “Republicans concerned about the Commerce Department’s plan are pushing legislation to block the transition.”
     
    Today, President Obama will speak at the 50th anniversary celebration of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, honoring the memory of President Lyndon Johnson and his contributions to the civil rights movement. Writing for The Hill, Justin Sink comments on the summit being held at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin.