Civil Liberties

BART and the New Era of Censorship

By Tim Karr
Free Press

I have spent most of the week poring over news stories, blogs and commentary on last week’s decision by Bay Area Rapid Transit officials to shut off cellphone service to quash planned protests on its trains and platforms.

Opinions are many and range from BART spokesman Linton Johnson, who says constitutional rights end the moment people go through transit-authority turnstiles, to “X” of the hacker collective Anonymous, who protested BART’s action and said our freedom to connect should be absolute and universal.

I tend to agree with “X,” but adding my criticism to what has already been heaped on BART seems of little consequence at this point.

Like BART Protests, Internal Documents Reveal UC Has Spied on Student Fee Hike Demonstrations

By Eric Lee

BART actions to inhibit free speech activity isn't new to University of California students who earlier this year uncovered internal documents showing officials has conspired to monitor and control constitutionally-protected fee hike protests at UC Davis.

High-ranking University of California, Davis administrators including Chancellor Linda Katehi, several vice chancellors, more than 30 staff members, and campus police were involved, according to internal documents uncovered by students involved in the demonstrations.

Students and community members are particularly disturbed in light of similar Bay Area Rapid Transit police transgressions on the freedom to communicate.

You, and Your Smart Phone, Have a Right to Privacy

By Mark Leno

If you like to attend political rallies, parades, protests or sit-ins, you might consider leaving your cell phone at home in the unlikely event arrests are made. A recent California Supreme Court decision allows police to rummage through all of the private information on your smart phone as part of an arrest, including your text messages and e-mails. This warrantless search is now legal in California, regardless of whether the information on the phone is relevant to the arrest or if criminal charges are ever filed.

Law enforcement has long had the right to search an arrestee in order to maintain officer safety and avoid destruction of evidence. Generally this included searching their clothing and other incidental items, such as a pack of cigarettes, where weapons or drugs could be hiding. Until now, smart phones were not included in this search.

The Patriot Act and the Quiet Death of the US Bill of Rights

By Zack Kaldveer
Consumer Federation of California

With the stroke of an autopen from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the once articulate critic of the Patriot Act signed a four year extension of the most dangerous assault on American civil liberties in US history without a single additional privacy protection.

One would think that this reauthorization would have incited vigorous debate in the halls of Congress and at least a fraction of the breathless 24/7 media coverage allotted the Anthony Weiner “sexting” scandal. Instead, three weeks ago the House (250 to 153) and Senate (72 to 23) approved, and the President signed, an extension of this landmark attack on the Bill of Rights with little notice and even less debate.

As Gay Marriage Fights Resume, How Can Advocates Reframe Debate?

By Paul Hogarth

2010 was a successful year in the fight for marriage equality, but it also was a relatively quiet year. That’s because most of the action happened in the courts (e.g., Prop 8 trial and DOMA lawsuit), where everyday activists have fewer openings to make an impact. 2011, however, promises more change at the legislative level in states like Rhode Island and Maryland – where our base supporters will be essential. But with that also comes the risky prospect of more initiative campaigns, where we have not been successful. And it’s here where advocates need a larger discussion about reframing the debate.

In the courts, gay marriage advocates have prevailed because “fundamental rights” and “equality” are the focus. But in the court of public opinion, scare tactics about the “consequences” of same-sex marriage have taken hold – which threaten to even undo the progress we have made in some states. To win, advocates will have to show the “movable middle” that gays and lesbians don’t want to “change” marriage – we want to join it.

The Medical Problems of Airport Screening: It’s Not Just the Radiation

By Jane M. Orient, M.D.

The radiation dose is likely the least of the problems with airport screening.

If operating as specified, a scanner delivers about 0.01 millirad of radiation, or 0.00001 rad. You unavoidably get 10,000 times as much from the natural environment every year.

The worry is not surprising in a nation that has been barraged with antinuclear propaganda for decades. Keeping people terrified of doses even tinier than those from airport scanners seems to be government policy. Fearmongering has likely caused a $10 trillion loss to our economy by stopping the expansion of nuclear power plants, and greater dependency on hostile foreigners for energy—including those who sponsor terrorism.

A Hobson’s Holiday Travel Choice: Digital Strip Search or Get Groped?

By Zack Kaldveer
Consumer Federation of California

By now most everyone has heard of, or been violated by, the latest anti-terror security “savior” called “Whole-Body-Imaging”. To those that prefer a more accurate and informative description of the new technology, let’s call them "digital strip search machines". These full-body airport scanners use one of two technologies - millimeter wave sensors or backscatter x-rays - to see through clothing, producing images of ghost white naked passengers. And they’re coming to an airport near you.

Ensuring Compliance: The Opt-Out “Choice”

For those that feel uncomfortable being viewed essentially nude by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents simply to visit your family this Thanksgiving, you can always opt-out. But this “choice” only leads to yet another violation of privacy: a recently announced policy of more aggressive “pat downs” of those that choose to forgo the scanners.

Tackling the Tormentors – California Non-Profit Holds Violators of Human Rights Accountable

By Richard Paddock

When Mohamed Ali Samantar came to the United States from war-torn Somalia in 1997, he hoped to live quietly in retirement in suburban Virginia. But thanks to a little-known San Francisco human rights group, the former Somali official instead became the focus of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court human rights case.

The Road Ahead

By Marc Solomon
Equality California
Crossposted from The Advocate

The last few weeks in the California marriage battles have been at once hopeful and painful. First we rode an ecstatic wave upward: Judge Vaughn Walker issued a powerful opinion striking down Proposition 8, and we celebrated as couples made plans to get married across the state.

Then we rode downward when a three-judge panel of the U.S. court of appeals for the ninth circuit granted an indefinite stay of the decision — without explanation. Committed couples and their families, some of whom had begun making wedding plans, once again felt the pain of being denied not only a fundamental right but also the respect for and recognition of their love and commitment that only marriage offers.

Another Crowned Queen Joins the Anti-LGBT Dark Side

By Jorge Amaro
Equality California

Mexican actress Karyme Lozano was crowned Queen of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade in 2008. So I was shocked to hear that she has joined the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles in a new initiative benefiting radically conservative Carly Fiorina, who is running for pro-LGBT Senator Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate seat. At a press conference this week hosted at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, the Washington-DC-based conservative Latino group announced the $1 million-dollar “Tus valores” (“Your Values”) campaign to bring their toxic agenda to California by helping elect anti-equality candidates like Fiorina.