Archive | March, 2010

One of the Best Ways to Support the ACLU of WI – Through One of the Best Places to Work in Madison!

23 Mar

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation has been a long-time member of Community Shares of Wisconsin, an organization that facilitates workplace giving campaigns in Dane County and for State of Wisconsin workers. Supporting the ACLU of Wisconsin’s educational and litigation work through a Community Shares campaign is an easy, low-cost way to show your support.

But until Madison Magazine named Community Shares of Wisconsin (CSW) as the Best Place to Work 2010–in workplaces under 100 employees, CSW has been a behind-the-scenes force to build social and economic equity and a healthy environment.

“It’s very gratifying to get this recognition,” said Executive Director Crystel Anders. “Yet we know that a key reason we were chosen as one of the Best Places to Work is because of the guidance from our board which consists of representatives from each of our member groups as well as representatives from the community.

The magazine article also gave credit to CSW member groups and the public. It pointed out that Madison gets social change and the many members and small staff of Community Shares of Wisconsin have worked over the past 18 years to go from a giving campaign of $250,000 to campaigns of over a million dollars annually. That’s a lot of community support, even in a tough economy.

“Our 64 member groups really are essential to Community Shares,” said Crystel. “A common theme among all of our employees’ responses to the questionnaire was that they welcome the opportunity to work with great people at our member nonprofits. Staff also reported that their answers mentioned how much they enjoy the chance to work with a broad spectrum of social and environmental issues – by virtue of working with our member groups.”

You can support the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation through Community Shares of Wisconsin by participating in your workplace campaign. Campaigns allow individual employees to give to charities of their choice through payroll deductions of the amount they choose. Low administration costs allow people to give 100% of their contribution to their favorite charity. To find out how to give your support, contact the ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office or Community Shares of Wisconsin.

The article, and details about the other places chosen among the Best Places to Work, can be found in the April issue of Madison Magazine, and on its website.

Sunday: Pub Politico with Dr. Zimmer in Madison, Take Action on Obama’s Privacy Advisory Board

19 Mar

Did you hear on NPR this week about how NO ONE is on Obama’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board? The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission and was originally established by the Bush administration. Congress made the board more independent in 2007 but it hasn’t had any appointments since.

The President needs an independent body to give input on the civil liberties and privacy implications of laws from the Patriot Act renewal to full body scanners at airports. The ACLU signed on to a coalition letter demanding that this Board get appointments as soon as possible.

This is just one example of how the American Civil Liberties Union is watching out for privacy rights – and you can take action on this issue in Madison this weekend…

On Sunday, the ACLU of Wisconsin will welcome University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor and Internet privacy expert Dr. Michael Zimmer at the next monthly installment of Pub Politico. Dr. Zimmer will discuss “Failures in Self-Regulation in Online Privacy” and other trends in social networking, Internet search engines and data privacy.

Participants will be invited to send their own letters to the President on the PCLOB issue.

“One of the most common questions we get at the local ACLU office is about people’s right to privacy in the electronic age,” said community advocate Stacy Harbaugh. “The ACLU of Wisconsin is working to defend the rights of individuals in an ever-changing digital landscape. Just because information is easy to share and technology changes, your right to privacy does not.”

Pub Politico is a monthly political salon-style discussion group that invites experts to share information on current legislative and social justice issues. The event will be upstairs at the Brocach Irish Pub, 7 W. Main St. in Madison at 2:00 p.m. Pub Politico is free and open to the public.

Dr. Michael Zimmer is an assistant professor in the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an associate at the Center for Information Policy Research. With a background in new media and Internet studies, the philosophy of technology, and information policy, Zimmer studies the ethical dimensions of new media and information technologies, with particular interest in privacy, social media, information ethics, access to knowledge, and value-conscious design. More information about Dr. Zimmer’s research can be found on his blog,

National News: ACLU Response to Yesterday’s House Hearing on Voting Rights for Ex-Offenders

17 Mar

Democracy Restoration Act Needed To Restore Fundamental Civil Rights, Says ACLU

A federal House Judiciary Subcommittee held a hearing in Washington D.C. yesterday on restoring voting rights in federal elections to millions of Americans who have been disfranchised because of criminal convictions. The American Civil Liberties Union commends the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties for holding the hearing, and submitted a written statement to leaders in the House to pass the Democracy Restoration Act, H.R. 3335, a bill that would restore one of the most fundamental rights – the right to vote – to millions of disfranchised Americans.

“Nearly four million people in America are working, paying taxes, and raising families in our communities, yet they are unable to cast a ballot,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The strength of America’s democracy relies on the civic involvement of its citizens, and the Democracy Restoration Act would ensure that all citizens who are not incarcerated can head to the polls to have their voices heard.”

The Democracy Restoration Act would restore voting rights in federal elections to millions of Americans who have been released from prison, ensure that probationers never lose their right to vote in federal elections and notify people about their right to vote in federal elections. The uniform federal standard in this bill would eliminate confusion for citizens and election administration officials alike due to variations in state law. Several law enforcement officials, members of the faith community and civil rights and legal organizations have spoken out in support of this legislation.

“By denying citizens the right to vote because of a criminal conviction, the government endorses a system that expects citizens to contribute to the community, but bars them from participating in the democratic process,” said Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Thankfully, the Jim Crow era in which most of these voting policies originated is long gone – but its impact sadly continues. It’s time that the polls opened their doors to allow all citizens in our communities the chance have their voices heard in the political process. The restoration of this basic civil right is long overdue.”

States have vastly different approaches to permitting citizens with criminal convictions to vote. Some states permanently disfranchise some, but not all, citizens with felony convictions, while others allow voting after a sentence is completed or after release from prison. Two states, Virginia and Kentucky, permanently disfranchise citizens with felony convictions unless the state approves individual rights restoration. Two other states, Maine and Vermont, allow all persons with felony convictions to vote, even while incarcerated. Other states fall somewhere in between. Unfortunately, there has been widespread confusion about the proper administration of state laws that has contributed to the disfranchisement of even eligible citizens.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee’s hearing on the Democracy Restoration Act can be streamed live at:

The ACLU statement submitted to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties in support of the Democracy Restoration Act (HR 3335) is available online.

Protest-Police Confrontation at UW MKE Needs Public Investigation

8 Mar

On Thursday, March 4th, a protest of students against the administration of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee led to a confrontation between protesters and police. Police used pepper spray against protesters and sixteen people were arrested or detained. Police said most would be charged with disorderly conduct or obstruction of justice.

ACLU Reaction
The ACLU of Wisconsin issued a statement calling for an investigation of police conduct during the incident and was quoted in today’s UWM Post article. In the statement, Executive Director Chris Ahmuty expressed dismay at the reports about the confrontation between demonstrators and the University and Milwaukee police officers. He said on Thursday that while it was unclear if laws were broken by police or students, it was clear that the confrontation following an unsuccessful attempt by some demonstrators to forcibly enter the Chancellor’s office included the police using pepper spray, apparently confiscating cell phones with cameras, and detaining and arresting demonstrators who may have been simply exercising their right to free speech and freedom of assembly.

“The apparent decision of the police to treat the demonstration as an unlawful assembly or disorderly conduct needs review,” said Ahmuty. “Demonstrators who were arrested or ticketed deserve a fair review of their cases, so that any who were within their rights are not forced to go to court.” Ahmuty also said that the ACLU of Wisconsin would consider representing students who were unjustly arrested or ticketed.

“In addition, the ACLU of Wisconsin calls upon Chancellor Santiago to conduct a review of the incident to assess how well the University’s policies and procedures protect First Amendment rights as well as campus safety,” said Ahmuty. “Such a review must be independent from the University Police and must be transparent. The results must be made public.”

Media Coverage
There is a lot of footage of the protest on YouTube as well as the posted footage from the camera of the student journalist who was arrested.

The UWM Post had a story and video coverage of the rally as well as interviews with police after the confrontation. The situation also got coverage in the UW Badger Herald, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, TMJ4 with video of police conduct and another TMJ4 site with raw footage of the protest and arrests, WITI FOX-6 with video, CBS-58 with video and WISN-TV. The Students for a Democratic Society, one of the organizers of the event, also issued a statement after the protest.

ACLU New York Times Ad on Obama and Military Commissions

8 Mar

The national American Civil Liberties Union published a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times calling on President Obama not to back down from his administration’s decision to prosecute the 9/11 suspects in civilian courts. The ad comes in response to news reports that the Obama administration is on the verge of reversing Attorney General Eric Holder’s November decision, turning instead to the discredited military commission system.

“We placed this ad because it’s critical that Americans know what is at stake here: nothing less than America’s commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the national ACLU. “The military commissions are seriously flawed and unprepared to handle these complex cases. If President Obama reverses his attorney general’s principled decision under political pressure, it will strike a devastating blow to American values and do serious damage to our nation’s credibility. We urge the president to do the right thing and keep these cases in federal court, where they belong.”

The ACLU also sent a letter to President Obama urging him to keep the 9/11 trials in civilian court and detailing the problems of the military commission system and its inability to provide fair, effective trials in these cases. The letter, signed by Romero, states:

“I believe that you will face few, if any, greater challenges to who we are as a nation and to our commitment to the rule of law than this question of sustaining the Attorney General’s principled decision to use federal criminal courts for these trials… The trials of the defendants alleged to have had roles in the September 11 attacks are the most important terrorism trials – and arguably the most important criminal trials – in the entire history of the nation. It would be a colossal mistake to reverse the administration’s decision to try these defendants in federal criminal court and again relegate these landmark trials to irretrievably defective military commissions.”

Military, Homeland Security, Spies on Planned Parenthood, Other Domestic Groups

3 Mar

Originally posted on The Progressive website on Monday.

The Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have been spying on Planned Parenthood, as well as anti-abortion groups and other domestic groups.

On February 2, 2002, a Joint Forces Command “update” to the FBI’s Olympic Intelligence Center provided information on “US Persons” and organizations, including Planned Parenthood and a white supremacist group, and their “involvement in protests and literature distribution,” according to a May 1, 2002, memorandum from a Pentagon deputy inspector general. The memo was part of a trove of documents that the Electronic Frontier Foundation ( recently pried loose in a lawsuit. The information about Planned Parenthood was “clearly outside the purview of military intelligence,” the deputy inspector general said.

This wasn’t the only—or the most recent—time the government has peered into the workings of Planned Parenthood.

The Department of Homeland Security “conducted a threat assessment of local pro- and anti-abortion activists,” reported the Wisconsin State Journal on February 8, relying also on a document made public by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The report was shared “with police in Middleton and with the director of the Wisconsin Statewide Information Center,” the State Journal noted. It “was compiled prior to a February 2009 meeting in Middleton by the University of Wisconsin Hospital board to decide whether to open a clinic that would offer late-term abortions.”

The Wisconsin ACLU condemns this spying.

“Without probable cause that a crime is being committed or is about to be committed, police or the federal government don’t have the right to snoop on activists,” says Stacy Harbaugh, the community advocate of the Madison-area office of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Having the feds investigate organizations on both sides of the abortion debate doesn’t make us all safer: it simply victimizes more individuals’ freedom and privacy rights.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against the Defense Department has uncovered “hundreds of reports of possibly illegal intelligence activities,” the group says.

One example involves Alaskans for Peace and Justice. NORAD/NORTHCOM “specifically indentified a United States Person (USP) group (Alaskans for Peace & Justice), which was planning a peaceful demonstration” on September 24, 2005. It then “retained the information” in its files, and it may have included that information “in a command briefing.”

Another example involves a staff officer at the U.S. Army Reserve Command at Fort McPherson, Georgia, who “routinely collected and retained information from open sources concerning domestic U.S.-person protest groups exercising their freedom of speech/assembly,” said a 2007 Pentagon document. “There was no indication that the information contained a foreign nexus or otherwise represented a legitimate force protection threat to the U.S. Army.”

By Matthew Rothschild, posted on The Progressive website, March 1, 2010