Privacy SOS

News you need to know about criminal justice, dissent, and technology

This week has seen a torrent of important civil liberties stories. Catch up:

PENTAGON TRAINING PROGRAM (STILL) LISTS DISSENT AS A POSSIBLE THREAT

HuffPo:

A new version of a computer-based cyber-security training course from the Pentagon still classifies disillusionment with U.S. foreign policy as a "threat indicator" that a federal employee might be a spy.

That training, available online and still being used as recently as last week, has been administered to millions of military and civilian employees throughout the federal government. Little seems to have changed since HuffPost reported on an earlier version of the same training course last year — even though a spokesman said then that the training was being "updated."

Back then it was "Hema" who was unhappy with foreign policy — now it's the anglicized "Helen." Back then she visited family in India — now she just travels abroad. Either way, government employees are still dinged with a loss of points in a spy-catching game if they don't identify dissent and foreign travel as her threat "indicators."

Helen "speaks openly of unhappiness with U.S. foreign policy." Combined with her trips abroad and her money troubles, these clues get her labeled as a "high" threat.

US HAS MUSLIM BLACKLIST, ACLU SAYS

Courthouse News:

The United States violates its own immigration laws through an under-the-radar "blacklist" that denies citizenship, green cards and political asylum to thousands of people, including innocent people placed a terrorist watch list, longtime legal-resident Muslims claim in Federal Court.

Lead plaintiff Reem Muhanna, et al. claim that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has consistently denied their applications for citizenship and lawful permanent residence after secretly blacklisting them as "'national security concerns,'" though they pose no threat to the United States.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on July 31 against the USCIS, the Department of Homeland Security, and a slew of their national and regional officers.

The plaintiffs claim that the Citizenship and Immigration Service uses obscure rules, under a program known as the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP), to delay or deny applications.

"Under this unfair and unconstitutional program, the government has blacklisted their applications without telling them why and barred them from upgrading their immigration status in violation of the immigration laws," ACLU attorney Jennie Pasquarella said in a statement.

 US INQUIRY FINDS A 'CULTURE OF VIOLENCE' AGAINST TEENAGE INMATES AT RIKERS ISLAND

The New York Times:

In an extraordinary rebuke of the New York City Department of Correction, the federal government said on Monday that the department had systematically violated the civil rights of male teenagers held at Rikers Island by failing to protect them from the rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force by correction officers.

The office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, released its findings in a graphic 79-page report that described a “deep-seated culture of violence” against youthful inmates at the jail complex, perpetrated by guards who operated with little fear of punishment.

The report, addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio and two other senior city officials, singled out for blame a “powerful code of silence” among the Rikers staff, along with a virtually useless system for investigating attacks by guards. The result was a “staggering” number of injuries among youthful inmates, the report said. 

CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TAKES ANIMAL RIGHTS "TERRORISM" LAW TO SUPREME COURT

CCR:

Last night, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review its case challenging the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) as a violation of the First Amendment. The law punishes causing lost profits to an animal enterprise, but makes no distinction between loss caused by criminal acts and loss caused by boycotts and other constitutionally-protected activity. 

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act punishes anyone found to have caused the loss of property or profits to a business or other institution that uses or sells animals or animal products, or to a “person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise.” CCR attorneys argued the law was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, and that it cast a chill on legal First Amendment activity by the animal rights activists they represent.
 
The appellate court ruled that the activists were not permitted to sue because they did not reach the unprecedented threshold that their prosecution under the law was “certainly impending.”
 
“Courts have never required that a prosecution be imminent before a plaintiff can bring a pre-enforcement challenge to a criminal statute,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Shayana Kadidal. “And for good reason—the chilling effect of laws like the AETA causes people to silence themselves out of fear of prosecution. Yet, the First Circuit’s ruling requires that these individuals risk being charged as terrorists for speaking out before they can demonstrate that the law is unconstitutional.”

70 PERCENT OF INTERNET OF THINGS DEVICES ARE VULNERABLE TO HACKING, STUDY SAYS

Mashable:

Nearly three-quarters of all Internet of Things devices are susceptible to getting hacked or compromised, according to a recent study.

The study, released by Hewlett-Packard (HP), examined 10 common smart devices, including thermostats, smart TVs and webcams. Each device had approximately 25 vulnerabilities, the study claimed.

ERIC HOLDER: BASING SENTENCES ON DATA ANALYSIS COULD PROVE UNFAIR TO MINORITIES

The Washington Post:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Friday that he opposes the use of data analysis in criminal sentencing, a practice that has been adopted by several states but that critics say could result in unfairly harsh sentences for minority defendants.

In a speech in Philadelphia to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Holder said that while information on education levels, socioeconomic backgrounds and neighborhoods can be useful in some areas of law enforcement, he cautioned against using such data to determine prison sentences.

Sentencing decisions based on “static factors and immutable characteristics,” Holder said, “may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities that are already far too common in our criminal justice system and in our society.”

Holder also asked the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency that establishes sentencing policies for the federal courts, to study and issue policy recommendations about the use of “big data” in sentencing decisions.

GOOGLE CATCHES SEX OFFENDER WITH GMAIL SCAN, BUT RAISES PRIVACY CONCERNS

Mashable:

It's common knowledge that Google scans your Gmail content to better target you with ads. But when the company recently turned over a Gmail user to authorities for possessing child pornography, it also shined a spotlight on the question of how much privacy you can have on the service.

John Henry Skillern, 41, has been charged with possessing child pornography after the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received a tip from Google that he had three pornographic images of children in his email. According to KHOU Houston, Skillern was emailing an explicit picture of a young girl when Google picked up on the incident and alerted authorities.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.