Improvements in technology, combined with a weakening of our legal protections, have resulted in unprecedented government power.
What's Happening in Ohio
People of color are often targeted by unnecessary stops, disproportionate responses, and excessive use of force. A critical aspect to police reform and accountability is the implementation and maintenance of body cameras. However, body cameras also raise important questions about civil liberties, which the ACLU of Ohio is equally concerned about.
Since 9/11, Muslims have been subjected to unlawful state surveillance, profiling, and deportation for imagined threats to the United States. This treatment has permanent consequences for individuals and their families and is a stain on our collective conscience. In his first days in office, President Donald Trump acted on his campaign promise of “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” by implementing anti-immigrant executive orders.
By January 27th, 2017, three executive orders were signed by the president concerning immigration. The “Muslim Ban” restricted immigration from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days, suspended all refugee entry for 120 days, and suspended Syrian refugee entry indefinitely. After numerous court cases, including one filed by the ACLU, federal courts stepped in to stop the “Muslim Ban” from being implemented.
Weeks later, the president signed a revised executive order, dubbed by the media “Muslim Ban 2.0.” The revisions removed Iraq from the list of banned countries as well as language about preferential treatment to non-Muslims, and exempted all visa and green-card holders. It also replaced the complete ban of Syrian refugees with a 120-day freeze. What stayed the same? The discriminatory and unconstitutional core of the executive order. As of March 16, federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland stopped the Trump administration from refusing to grant visas from six predominantly-Muslim countries on the grounds of religious discrimination. In Hawaii, the judge went further to also stop the freeze of Syrian refugee entry.
The ACLU will remain vigilant as we fight against unconstitutional and discriminatory legislation, policy, and executive orders. Learn More
On August 5, 2015, a new bill (HB 298) was introduced to the Ohio Legislature calling for Ohio Works First cash benefit applicants to 1) complete substance abuse screening and, if likelihood of dependence is indicated, 2) undergo physical testing for trace presence of those substances. Applicants failing the test would be referred for treatment and would not receive benefits for at least half a year.
Mike Brickner, senior policy director for American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, pointed out this requirement for testing perpetuates “ugly and false” stereotypes that people using cash assistance are more likely to use drugs. Also, the number receiving Ohio Works First benefits is declining by significant numbers, with children comprising the vast majority of recipients.
Recent research shows the rate of positive results compared with total welfare applicants in six out of seven states presently using drug testing for this purpose is well below 1 percent in each case—dwarfed by the national drug use average of 9.4 percent.
Other factors also weigh against testing. It well may represent a breach in constitutionality. Add to this reduced funding for treatment services and current capacity below what’s needed just to treat those needing services now. This suggests a long wait for helping hands to many who can least afford to go without them.
On Friday, July 8, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice actually recommended in a congressional hearing that Congress pressure companies to weaken their encryption efforts by building into them a so-called “back door” into their products.
Supposedly, according to the DOJ, commercial information technology is becoming so protected by encryption that even companies servicing that technology can’t access the information it protects. It also gets in the way of legitimate law enforcement investigations, thus impacting national security.
The DOJ indicated that, while it’s not yet trying to get this recommendation mandated into law, it isn’t ruling that out in the future.
The ACLU always has opposed efforts to mandate weakened securityencryption. “Whether through a mandate or another form of government pressure, weakened cybersecurity is a lose-lose proposition for security and privacy,” said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU Legislative Counsel.
- Authorities in the intelligence field maintain it’s impossible to make a law enforcement backdoor that isn’t also open to criminals, hackers and dishonest government individuals.
- The DOJ offered no evidence that weakened cybersecurity is actually needed.
- Government-mandated cybersecurity weakening puts the private sector even more solidly into a position of responsibility for building the government’s surveillance infrastructure.
This DOJ recommendation, if it is adopted, does not protect national or corporate security. More important, it also threatens critical Fourth Amendment guarantees of personal privacy.
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.
Click here for more information on the report
A new ACLU report shows that police departments across the country are expanding their use of automatic license plate readers (ALPR’s) to track the location of American drivers. Unfortunately, few of these departments have any meaningful rules in place to ensure transparency, or protect the privacy of drivers.
When it comes to ALPR guidelines, Ohio is a mixed bag. The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) has a good policy, one that requires all license plate records to be deleted immediately if they do not raise any flags. It further specifies that data cannot be collected, stored, or shared for the purpose of data mining. However, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office retains data for 90 days, and public records have not been collected from many other Ohio agencies, making their ALPR policies a mystery.
The OSHP’s ALPR policy proves that law enforcement agencies can still do their jobs while protecting the privacy of innocent people. Ultimately, Ohio needs state legislation that would create similar standards for all law enforcement agencies.
Click here for more information on ALPR’s.
Download a printable one-page PDF of Working to Increase Privacy Protections: a civil liberties briefing.
Ohioans of all political parties want their privacy protected, and to be free from intrusive government surveillance. Privacy concerns identified by the ACLU of Ohio include the following:
- Warrantless use of drones;
- Employers and school officials demanding access to employee and student social networking profiles;
- The use of automatic license plate readers by police; and
- Warrantless cell phone location tracking.
Updated 04.18.13: Because of the efforts of community activists, this proposal was withdrawn.
04.02.13 The Dayton City Commission is considering a request from the Dayton Police Department to work with a local company to provide aerial surveillance. If approved, the city will pay $120,000 to Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS) for 120 hours of airborne surveillance this summer.
According to PSS, these planes can monitor an area four times as large as Dayton’s downtown. The rapid-fire cameras used on the plane make the captured data more like film than still photos. Police can zoom in on any part of the image, in real time. This means that they could track your car down the street or watch you swimming in your backyard.
The police department’s proposed guidelines do not require a warrant prior to surveillance; lack clear retention and sharing policies; and fail to provide for independent oversight.
The ACLU of Ohio has been working with a group of local activists to push for new guidelines which address these civil liberties concerns. The program is on the agenda for a special meeting before Dayton’s City Commission on Tuesday, April 9, 2013.
To download a brief overview of domestic aerial surveillance in Dayton, click here.
Read a post on warrantless aerial surveillance in Dayton at the ACLU Blog of Rights.
In October 2009 the ACLU learned of a new University of Akron policy requiring job applicants to submit to a DNA test at the discretion of the school. After criticism from the ACLU and a Faculty Senate resolution denouncing the policy, the University’s general counsel recommended that the University repeal the provision.
“Joe the Plumber” and privacy
During the 2008 presidential campaign, it was discovered that state officials approved the use of government databases to obtain information about Joseph Wurzelbacher, also known as “Joe the Plumber.” The ACLU of Ohio called for immediate action to mandate that state agencies implement privacy protections.
In response, the Ohio General Assembly passed H.B. 648 in December 2008, which limits the use of state-created databases to legitimate purposes and punishes employees who use them for the wrong reasons. Read our press release and testimony in favor of H.B. 648.