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Nothing less than complete transparency about the Todashev shooting will restore public trust

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty March 21, 2014 04:05 PM

Leaks about the FBI and a Florida prosecutor's office stating that they are about to release reports clearing a Boston FBI agent in the Florida shooting of Ibragim Todashev do little to address growing public concern about government secrecy and accountability. Unfortunately, it is no surprise that the FBI would exonerate itself. Last year, after examining an 18-year period in which FBI agents used deadly force against 150 people, reporter Charlie Savage of the New York Times found that the agency justified its agents' actions in every single case.

Here in Massachusetts, we are particularly concerned about the still-unaddressed involvement of Massachusetts State Police in the shooting of Mr. Todashev.

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Sam Adams and Mayor Walsh should sponsor St. Patrick's Peace Day

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty March 14, 2014 01:38 PM

I like Sam Adams beer. I also like Samuel Adams, the American patriot, after whom the beer was named.

As I'm sure all of you history buffs recall, Adams was the guy who in 1768 called on the American colonists to engage in "non-cooperation" with the British crown, on the grounds that the occupation of Boston by British soldiers violated the British constitution.

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Mayor Walsh Should Honor St. Patrick by Marching with Veterans for Peace

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty March 2, 2014 08:21 PM

Newly-elected Mayor Marty Walsh should be commended for trying to open Boston's annual St. Patrick's Day parade to all of Boston's residents by brokering an invitation for gay-rights groups to march in the parade.

Like the 5th century saint who drove the mythical snakes and toads from Ireland, Mayor Walsh is trying to drive bigotry out of Boston.

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In the sprit of Independence Day, Beacon Hill should restore checks and balances on police surveillance

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty July 5, 2013 11:01 AM

The Massachusetts State Police celebrated Independence Day by tweeting photos of themselves questioning and searching people who carried signs protesting unchecked and – until recently, secret – domestic government surveillance practices.

Few people argued with the police decision to lay a heavy surveillance blanket over official Independence Day festivities on the Esplanade.

What’s troubling is that the State Police admit that they still don’t have a policy to regulate who has access to the video images innocent and ordinary Bostonians taking part in the festivities. Is there really no policy on how those images are stored, used, shared or – it seems – posted on line?

The Globe quotes State Police spokesman David Procopio as stating that “officials plan to develop a policy but they did not want to delay implementing the cameras, which they had to rush to install in time for the Fourth celebrations.”

No doubt, the absence of a privacy and data security policy explains why the police thought it was okay to tweet images of themselves with peaceful protestors. Or, could it be that they captured photos of everyone – and then later decided to post the images of themselves with protestors? Either way, the chilling effect on protected political speech is alarming.

The excuse that law enforcement didn’t have time to adopt a clear data usage and privacy policy isn’t credible. After all, the state police, together with the Boston Police Department and the local FBI, have long engaged in surveillance in public places. Remember Occupy Boston?

Nor is this the first time that Massachusetts law enforcement officials have targeted peaceful protestors. Last October, the ACLU of Massachusetts, together with the local National Lawyers Guild chapter, obtained documents that were published in a report, “Policing Dissent,” showing that Massachusetts State police and Boston police monitored peace groups such as Veterans for Peace, Code Pink, and historian Howard Zinn, putting their names into a permanent criminal data base.

Back then, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis assured the public that his department destroyed all information on innocent people within 90 days, but that a “computer error” had caused the data to be retained indefinitely.

Now, it seems, there are no policies whatsoever to guide law enforcement who engage in domestic surveillance of ordinary Americans.

It is time for the Massachusetts Legislature to act.

On Tuesday, July 9, the state Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on a range of privacy proposals, the most important of which is the Electronic Privacy Act, which provides law enforcement agencies with the necessary boundaries for for phone, internet, and location tracking.

People in a democratic society should be able to understand very clearly how video, photos and information that the government collects about us is going to be used and who is going to be able to access it. We need to know that we won’t be targeted for speaking out in public or disagreeing with our government’s point of view. After all, that’s why the American colonists declared independence.

Passing privacy legislation is the best way for Americans to celebrate our nation’s rejecction of unchecked government power. If you haven’t already done so, sign the on-line petition urging Beacon Hill leaders to restore checks and balance to our Commonwealth.

It’s the patriotic thing to do.

Massachusetts residents oppose NSA's dragnet spying, true to our history

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty June 17, 2013 05:05 PM

Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project, wrote this guest blog.

A new poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire for the Boston Globe reveals that 40 percent of Massachusetts residents oppose “the government obtaining phone and electronic records of US citizens,” while only 25 percent support it. These numbers make clear that Commonwealth residents still hold dear the very principles of American justice that were born under our feet.

After all, our state has long been a cradle of liberty, and the Fourth Amendment was practically born in Boston.

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The sun is shining on massive abuses, and some are blaming the light

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty June 11, 2013 04:39 PM

In a classic PR maneuver, the Obama administration and a few lawmakers are trying to divert attention from revelations that our government has built the capacity to secretly spy on hundreds of millions of ordinary Americans. It appears as if they would rather have us argue about whether NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden is a hero or villain than focus on the substance of his revelations.

The American people shouldn't be fooled. Snowden isn't the story.

The story is what happens when a government can watch its people in secret, but the people can't watch their government. The danger is that democracy dies.

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Targeting teenage rapper smacks of prosecutorial abuse

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty May 24, 2013 09:15 AM

An 18-year-old high school student from the Boston suburb of Methuen is facing two decades in prison, charged with “communicating a terrorist threat.” The young aspiring rapper, Cameron D’Ambrosio, a/k/a Cammy Dee, reportedly posted the following to his Facebook page on May 1, 2013: “Fuck a Boston bomb wait till u see the shit I do, I’m be famous rapping, and beat every murder charge that comes across me!”

Of course, lots of songs have violent lyrics. But that doesn’t make the people who sing them a public menace. Johnny Cash famously sang about having killed his beloved Delia. Bob Marley wailed that he had shot the sheriff, but not his deputy. The traditional English ballad, “Twa Sisters,” first sung in 1665, is a truly macabre description of a miller who fished his victim from the river and “made fiddle screws of her little finger bones.”

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Let's show the world how it's done

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty April 29, 2013 02:29 PM

Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program, wrote this guest blog.

Boston Police commissioner Ed Davis has called for more police surveillance cameras and drones to better keep an eye on the city. Knee jerk calls for more surveillance in the wake of a tragedy like the events of April 15 are understandable; people want to do something, we want to act quickly to protect ourselves. 

But buying more cameras isn’t the answer. Massachusetts law enforcement officials have themselves acknowledged that there was plenty of footage of the scene around the attacks. Indeed, the colonel of the State Police told the press that more information may have simply confused things:

"The sheer volume of stuff made it difficult to sort through," said Alben, 53, the State Police colonel appointed last summer to oversee the state’s 2,300 troopers. But, he said, "we were very confident that there were enough cameras down there that we were going to capture something" that would lead to bombers."

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Catching the bad guys, helping the good guys

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty April 19, 2013 07:15 PM

ACLU of Massachusetts legal director Matthew Segal and executive director Carol Rose wrote this blog:

At a Friday evening press conference following some of the most tragic and chaotic days in the state’s history, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick made two important announcements: first, he lifted the “stay indoors request,” and second, he called on everyone to remain “vigilant.” Those announcements were important not only because they help people know what to expect from the police, but also because they help us understand our liberties in the face of terror.

Patrick’s announcement about the stay indoors “request” is important because it confirms that the request was never an order. True, the request was almost unanimously followed, including by ACLU staff members. But that’s because we all want to be safe and help law enforcement do its job, especially in times of crisis. With the possible exception of the immediate areas in which officers are actively following a dangerous suspect, no town in Massachusetts could lawfully have been locked down. And no person in Massachusetts gives up her rights just by walking the streets or living near where a criminal flees.

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Judge people by their actions and their character, not religion

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty April 19, 2013 06:31 PM

National ACLU executive director Anthony Romero issued the following statement this afternoon on the Marathon bombing and its aftermath:

Our hearts continue to go out to the people of Massachusetts and to friends and families of those affected by this horrific act of violence, including first responders and law enforcement who have been injured or lost their lives as a result of this attack.

As with any incident of this kind, initial reports can be inaccurate, leading to wrongful characterizations and stereotypes of certain groups. We urge the media, public and lawmakers to avoid jumping to conclusions about any suspects until all facts and evidence are gathered and thoroughly analyzed.

As we continue to receive information in the coming days and weeks, it is important to remember that Marathon runners and supporters, as well as first responders, people who provided key evidence to the authorities and those injured or killed because of these senseless acts, were of different nationalities, ethnic and racial backgrounds, ideologies and religions.

Our nation needs to stay the course and judge people by their actions and their character, rather than the color of their skin or their religion or beliefs. This is what makes America great.

Boston shows its strength, resilience and unity

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty April 17, 2013 05:27 PM

In the aftermath of the horrific Boston Marathon bombings, the leaders and people of Boston have proven their patriotic spirit with strength, resilience and unity.

Together, we have extended our collective concern and condolences to the victims and families of this attack. Together, we condemn these attacks, but we also refuse to be intimidated into abandoning our hard-won freedoms and civil liberties.

We applaude and thank the brave first responders, medical professionals, elected leaders, law enforcement officials, and countless ordinary people who reacted with extraordinary valor and competence to aid the wounded.

Especially on Patriots Day, when we honor the founding of our nation and its democratic ideals, their courage inspires and reminds us that our nation, our Commonwealth and our city are strongest when we are led by principles that unite our communities and keep us both safe and free.

License plate readers threaten privacy

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty April 9, 2013 01:28 PM

Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project, wrote this guest blog.

Where you are is who you are


Today's front-page Boston Globe expose on license plate readers in Massachusetts sounds the alarm on a problem the ACLU of Massachusetts -- and the national ACLU -- flagged as a potential privacy disaster back in 2010:

Absent commonsense privacy protections enshrined in law, license plate readers enable the government to retroactively track the movements of every single motorist in the state and nation -- all without suspicion of wrongdoing or warrants.

According to the Globe, "seven Boston-area police departments will add a combined 21 new license readers during the next month alone." And that's just the Boston metropolitan region. License plate readers are likewise spreading like wildfire state- and nationwide.

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Police step one toke over the line by busting mere pot smokers

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty April 5, 2013 05:17 PM

Common sense scored a victory today when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in two cases that sharing a joint does not constitute drug “distribution” under the criminal laws of the Commonwealth.

At first glance, the facts of the cases are amusing. In one, plain clothes cops at the 2010 “Boston Freedom Rally” – also known as the “Hempfest” to legalize marijuana – saw three guys on a park bench smoking a marijuana cigarette. Maybe the hemp-festers knew that Massachusetts voters in 2008 overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative making the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense – like a parking ticket – rather than a crime.

Realizing that simply possessing pot is no longer a crime in Massachusetts, however, the cops waited until the bench-sitters passed the joint and – aha! – busted them for “distribution” and proceed to search and arrest them.

The facts got considerably less amusing – and downright scary for the bench-sitters -- when prosecutors decided to press criminal charges. Suddenly, the hemp-festers were facing two years in prison.

I know, I know – in your day, as in mine, pot-smokers considered it a crime not to pass a joint – remember “bogarting”? The urban dictionary says the term refers to the famous actor Humphrey Bogart, who always kept a cigarette dangling from his lips, and didn’t share. It may have been cool when Bogart did it, but it has always been considered bad manners among the pot-smokers I’ve known.

Etiquette aside, it seems to me that smoking alone – just like drinking alone – generally is a bad sign. Fortunately, the Supreme Judicial Court declined to read the decriminalization law as protecting only lonely and secretive smoking, noting: “We do not read [the law] so narrowly as to protect only the solitary marijuana user from warrantless searches, particularly in light of the recognition that marijuana is often used in groups.”

Massachusetts voters know that, while pot-smoking – like drinking – certainly can make you stupid, it doesn’t make you a criminal. So why are cops still wasting their time, and our tax dollars, trolling the Hempfest for three guys sharing a joint on a park bench? My guess is three stoned guys on a park bench are a pretty easy mark if you want to find someone to bust.

Hopefully, today’s court rulings will encourage police officers to focus on serious crimes instead of wasting their time and our tax dollars busting people for sharing marijuana.

Ms. Windsor goes to Washington

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty March 27, 2013 11:55 AM

James Esseks, director of the national ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project, wrote this guest blog.

I'm writing from DC, where "Team Edie" has spent the last few days in intense preparations for today's Supreme Court oral arguments in Edie Windsor's challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.

Edie's case presents a straightforward question of equality: Is it fair for the federal government to pretend that her marriage to Thea Spyer, with whom she shared her life for 44 years, never happened? That's what DOMA requires the federal government to do – treat the approximately 130,000 married same-sex couples in the United States as unmarried for purposes of the 1,100 different federal programs where being married makes a difference – from family medical leave, to social security survivor benefits, to veterans' benefits. The Court's answer to that question will determine whether DOMA falls.

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Marriage equality hasn't made the sky fall

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty March 26, 2013 12:57 PM

ACLU of Massachusetts communications director Chris Ott wrote this guest blog.

In the lead-up to the marriage cases before the U.S. Supreme Court this week, I talked with friends recently about the arguments that opponents of equality used to make. Still shaking my head in disbelief, even after nearly a decade, I said:

"They basically argued that the sky was going to fall if gay people were just allowed to get married!"

That was a ridiculous argument even at the time of the Massachusetts marriage breakthrough in 2004, but we still laughed, because it sounds even sillier today. I figured they must be trying other arguments by now, right?

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Anthony Lewis: A Voice of Courage and Clarity

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty March 25, 2013 02:53 PM

The world lost a voice of courage and clarity when Anthony Lewis died this morning. He was our nation's pre-eminent expert and explainer of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. By telling human stories of personal courage and the law, Tony Lewis inspired me and countless other journalists, lawyers, and ordinary people to embrace what it means — and what it takes — to be a free human being.

I first met Tony when I was a young reporter at The New York Times, and he remained a mentor and teacher when I later became a civil liberties lawyer at the ACLU. He taught me to love the law, to strive for clear prose, and to realize that courage is essential to a free society.

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Parade street sweep violates the spirit of St. Patrick

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty March 15, 2013 09:02 AM

Everyone marching in Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston knows--or should know--the story of how the 5th-century saint drove the “snakes and toads” out of Ireland.

Of course, St. Patrick didn’t drive out real snakes--Ireland didn’t have any. Instead, the snake story is a metaphor for the church’s campaign to replace indigenous Irish religions in favor of their own new religion--Christianity.

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Harvard email scandal shows need for protection from unwarranted government intrusion

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty March 11, 2013 03:04 PM

ACLU of Massachusetts legislative counsel Gavi Wolfe and Technology for Liberty project director Kade Crockford wrote this guest blog.

So, Harvard searched through its deans' emails to find out who leaked information about the big cheating scandal. Yikes!

In defense of this bold intrusion, they say they didn't read the content of any emails, just the headers. But that's the same approach the FBI takes under the much maligned and perversely named USA Patriot Act.

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Waltham terrorist threat or bad chemistry?

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty March 4, 2013 10:02 AM

Chip Berlet, an ACLU member and vice-president of the Defending Dissent Foundation, wrote this guest blog. He has written about civil liberties and civil rights for over 40 years, and is an Eagle Scout.

The hapless school security guard Jesse Holland at Waltham High School was wrong if he stole powdered iron, powdered aluminum and a magnesium metal ribbon from the school laboratory. The media hoopla about a potential terrorist threat and possession of bomb-making materials, however, was ridiculous. There are real terrorists, and we need to take such threats seriously.

So round up the Scoutmasters! Boy Scout leaders in the United States and Canada have been using iron and aluminum powder to stage sparkling effects at campfires for over 50 years. How do I know? Because I was taught how to do this at a Boy Scout camp in the 1960s.

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Roberts' claims about Massachusetts are a distraction

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty March 1, 2013 11:00 AM

ACLU of Massachusetts communications director Chris Ott wrote this guest blog.

It's not as if there are no threats to voting rights in Massachusetts. In just the last couple of years, groups like Voters 4 Integrity in Southbridge have fought attempts to mislead Massachusetts voters, and last fall, the ACLU of Massachusetts joined voter-protection efforts to ensure access to the polls.

But Chief Justice John Roberts' claims about Massachusetts are a distraction. The stakes are high, and the Voting Rights Act remains essential. That's why the ACLU intervened in Shelby County v. Holder on behalf of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and several Shelby County residents in order to help uphold the law.

But don't just take our word for the importance of the Voting Rights Act. Congress voted to re-authorize the law in 2006, and President Bush signed it with fanfare. States like Mississippi and North Carolina, which are affected by the law's requirements, have also filed an amicus brief in its defense.

As Laughlin McDonald of the national ACLU's Voting Rights Project and Eunice Hyon Min Rho have written, "The Voting Rights Act remains an indispensable tool in our fight to preserve the right to vote; this law brings us one step closer to our dream of achieving our ideal of true egalitarian citizenship. It must be preserved."

LGBT opponents were right: their support is vanishing

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty February 26, 2013 08:08 PM

ACLU of Massachusetts communications director Chris Ott wrote this guest blog.

Opponents of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people aren't right about much, but they were right about one thing: how quickly their support would vanish.

Dreading the indefensibility of prejudice would explain their hot, sudden rush during the 2000s to pass constitutional amendments to block the freedom to marry for lesbian and gay couples. They essentially tried rigging the game in their favor before their support simply melted away.

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Three reasons why S-Comm numbers don't add up

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty February 20, 2013 03:47 PM

ACLU of Massachusetts staff attorney Laura Rótolo wrote this guest blog.

Sunday's article on Secure Communities asks some important questions. Why, despite the Obama administration's focus on deporting criminals, do the numbers tell a different story? Why does the administration’s signature program, Secure Communities (S-Comm), continue to deport so many undocumented workers and so few dangerous persons?

Since it became known that Boston had signed up to be a pilot city in the S-Comm experiment, advocates have monitored the program through the monthly reports from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). True to our predictions, S-Comm continues to deport mostly people with minor infractions or no criminal records at all, and not threats to public safety.

This is true even though the program was implemented statewide in May of 2011.As the Globe reports, in some counties, up to 79 percent of those deported had no criminal record.

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Immigration reform proposal is a good start

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty January 28, 2013 03:16 PM

ACLU of Massachusetts Staff Counsel Laura Rótolo contributed the following:

The initial Congressional plan to reform our broken immigration system is a good start, but can be improved to ensure we don't lose fundamental rights along the way. The plan includes some positive provisions, such as a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the shadows. It also includes proposals that can affect civil liberties and add to the runaway spending on border security.

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Why did the Massachusetts US Attorney's office persecute Aaron Swartz?

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty January 14, 2013 04:22 PM

Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty project, co-wrote this blog.

Losing Internet and social justice activist Aaron Swartz feels like a punch to the solar plexus for those of us who care about freedom. The world has lost a young man of rare genius, compassion, courage and an unwavering commitment to social justice.

His death by suicide last week was "the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach," said a statement released by his family.

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Rhetorical support is not "material support"

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty December 26, 2012 02:15 PM

Alex Abdo, staff attorney for the ACLU's National Security Project, wrote this guest blog.

We Americans cherish few rights more than the right to speak our minds. And yet that right often comes under attack. Most recently, the federal government has used laws criminalizing the "material support" of foreign terrorist organizations to prosecute people who hold unpopular political views. Take the case of Tarek Mehanna, a native of Sudbury, Massachusetts.

Almost exactly one year ago, Mehanna was convicted then sentenced to over 17 years in prison for providing "material support" to al Qaeda. In a trial that lasted thirty-five days, the vast majority of the government's case focused on Mehanna's views on global politics, war, and religion. He was convicted in large part based on evidence that he translated publicly available al Qaeda propaganda from Arabic to English and tried to persuade others to embrace his extreme views.

Mehanna's views would shock many Americans. They are offensive and often hateful. At times Mehanna agreed with al Qaeda and parroted its views (at times he also expressly disagreed with the group).

But the right to hold and espouse offensive views is one of our nation's essential liberties. Just last year, for example, in the case of the Westboro Baptist Church, the Supreme Court upheld the Church's right to picket and protest the funerals of our soldiers with signs bearing repulsive messages: "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," and "Thank God for IEDs."

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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