Since September 11, 2001, our nation has seen an unprecedented attack on civil liberties in the name of preventing terrorism. From the USA Patriot Act, to radicalization hearings and mysterious domestic surveillance operations, our government often seems too willing to sacrifice freedom in the name of security.
What's Happening in Ohio
Cleveland is hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC). The RNC is a National Special Security Event, which means that Cleveland will receive $50 million to help pay for heightened security measures, including expanded law enforcement and surveillance. In July 2014, the Cleveland City Council passed an ordinance that places numerous pertinent locations in downtown Cleveland on hold for the RNC Host Committee’s use and grants the city permission to take out an insurance policy.
Cleveland has said it will spend $30 million on expanded personnel and $20 million on security equipment. Additionally, the city is requesting a large insurance policy to not only shield them from liability for injuries and accidents, but also lawsuits arising from First and Fourth amendment violations.
This slideshow by the Ohio Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild provides an overview of current city ordinances which relate to the RNC, the equipment and weaponry that Cleveland is planning to purchase for the RNC, as well as examples of items that past convention host cities purchased.
On March 21, 2016 the ACLU of Ohio and a coalition of activists called on city officials to provide opportunities for public input and transparency on the purchase of equipment for the RNC, as well as the decommissioning of this equipment after the convention. This group sent an open letter to the Cleveland mayor and city council and provided a draft resolution for demilitarization of the city’s police force.
The United States government is using “predictive judgment” to prevent certain people from using commercial air transportation. In other words, the government is trying to predict whether people might commit a terrorist act, whether or not they have a criminal record.
According to Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, the feds “launched its predictive judgment model without any evidence whatsoever about its accuracy…or the extent to which it results in errors.”
Because the government predicts these people—innocent U.S. citizens—might engage in violence at some unknown future time, it has grounded them indefinitely on a federal “no-fly list.”
People on this list need ways of redress to demonstrate their innocence of crimes they haven’t committed. The government refuses to provide these safeguards in its current system. It also declines to tell these people the reasons it has for predicting misconduct or what evidence it has collected, leaving them to guess. Finally, it will not provide a hearing for people to press their case and challenge government witnesses.
The ACLU has asked the courts, on behalf of victims of predictive judgment, to strike down the government’s current redress process and make it responsive to those wronged by predictive judgment.
Download a printable one-page PDF of Drones and Domestic Surveillance: A civil liberties briefing.
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by a human operator. They are used by both the government and private sector for a variety of purposes: from scientific research to agriculture to military operations. Domestic drone use is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Thus far, the FAA has proceeded cautiously, permitting only a small number of domestic law enforcement agencies to operate drones. However, there is increasing pressure from industry, law enforcement, and some in Congress to permit more domestic drones and expand their use.
Drone use creates many privacy concerns, including:
- Increased surveillance. The high cost of manned aircraft has always imposed a limit on the government’s aerial surveillance capacity. The low cost and flexibility of drones erode that limit.
- More invasive technology. Increasing technology, such as high powered night vision cameras and see-through imaging, provide more and better detail and exacerbate privacy issues.
- Threats to free speech. Surveillance curtails individual liberty and freedom by placing Americans under constant scrutiny. Innocent people may fear punishment if they exercise their First Amendment rights on issues where they do not agree with the government.
- Misuse of data. Local and federal law enforcement agencies routinely store all kinds of data on Ohioans. Without limits on data retention and sharing, we risk the creation of databases that facilitate the pervasive, permanent monitoring of innocent Ohioans.
Need for Guidelines
The Heritage Foundation, the International
Association of Chiefs of Police, the national Republican Party, and the ACLU all agree that guidelines on domestic drone use will help protect against unreasonable government intrusion.
Currently, there is a surge of activity in state legislatures all over the nation aimed at regulating domestic drone use. To date, approximately 95-percent of these bills include a requirement that law enforcement officials get a warrant before using drones in their investigations.
Currently, there are two bills pending in the General Assembly that would provide guidelines for drone use by governmental agencies:
- H.B. 207: Permits law enforcement to operate drones for evidence and information collection after a search warrant is obtained; in an emergency; or when necessary to thwart a terrorist attack.
- S.B. 189: Permits state employees to operate drones after a search warrant is obtained or in an emergency; codifies limits on data retention; bans weapons on drones; and establishes a reporting requirement for drone operations.
The ACLU of Ohio supports both of these bills, which work proactively to balance civil liberties and public safety.
KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development, Inc. v. Geithner et al.
The ACLU and several civil rights lawyers filed a lawsuit on behalf of KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development, Inc., an Ohio-based charity whose property was frozen by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control based simply on the assertion that KindHearts was “under investigation.” Get details in our legal docket.
Kindhearts’ assets were frozen for over three years, despite no formal charges and no evidence presented against them. Unable to function as a charity, the organization finally ceased operations in January 2012.
Kindhearts has maintained all along that they did not support terrorism. Along with the ACLU, the charity won a major victory in 2011 when the federal court, for the first time, struck down the post-September 11th government’s troubling record of seizing private property and condemning organizations without presenting evidence or providing any semblance of due process.
In May, 2012, the government settled the lawsuit brought by KindHearts, agreeing to remove the organization from their blacklist and to let it distribute the funds it has raised for humanitarian causes.
This is the first time the government has agreed to remove an organization from a watch list as a result of a lawsuit, and then allowed the organization to distribute its assets. The government also agreed to pay KindHearts’ attorney fees.
Senate Bill 9 — the Ohio Patriot Act — was signed into law January 11, 2006, and went into effect April 14, 2006. Originally introduced in the Ohio General Assembly to ostensibly fight terrorism, the law infringes on Ohioans’ due process rights, chills dissent and encourages racial profiling of immigrants and people of color.
One section of the Ohio Patriot Act requires anyone doing business with the state to sign an oath stating they are not terrorists, do not employ terrorists and have never materially supported terrorist groups. If the person refuses to sign the oath, they may not conduct business with the state. The State of Ohio named the form, “Declaration Regarding Material Assistance/No Assistance to a Terrorist Organization.”
For many civil libertarians, the “declaration” is eerily similar to the McCarthy-era loyalty oaths of the 1950’s, when so many lives were ruined by fear-mongering accusations of Communism.
Current state of Ohio regulations related to the declaration form can be found here.