Tag Archives: liberties

Rights groups urge Justice to investigate police use of face recognition

Fifty national civil rights, civil liberties, faith, and privacy organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Justice Department urging it to investigate the increasing use and impact of face recognition by police.

The letter, sent in partnership with the ACLU and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, comes amid mounting evidence that the technology is violating the rights of millions of Americans and having a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

Also, Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology has released a report finding that police departments across the country are frequently using face recognition technologies to identify and track individuals — whether crossing the street, captured on surveillance cameras, or attending protests.

The report highlights that existing deficiencies are likely to have a disparate impact on African-Americans.

“We need to stop the widespread use of face recognition technology by police until meaningful safeguards are in place,” said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU legislative counsel. “Half of all adults in the country are in government face recognition databases, yet the vast majority of law enforcement agencies using this technology lack clear policies, audits to ensure accuracy, and transparency.”

The letter, sent to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, was signed by 50 diverse organizations.

The letter explains how federal, state and local police forces use driver license photos to identify suspects — without warrants, accuracy tests, or audits.

“This technology supercharges the racial bias that already exists in policing,” said Sakira Cook, counsel with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “For the good of the nation, we can’t afford to let these inherently biased systems operate without any safeguards.”


Justice urged to improve rules for collecting data about deaths in police custody

Dozens of nonprofits called on the U.S. Department of Justice to strengthen its proposed rule outlining the process for police departments to collect and report data about people who die while in police custody.

In a letter sent in late August, the organizations responded to the DOJ’s proposal for implementing the Deaths in Custody Reporting Act, which requires police departments to disclose details to the U.S. government about custodial deaths.

DICRA was signed into law in 2014 in response to a lack of reliable data on these deaths and DOJ is currently collecting comments on its implementation proposal published Aug. 4.

The comment period will close Oct. 3.

Groups urging Justice to strengthen its rule include the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the United Methodist Church, the National Immigration Law Center, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the Southern Poverty Law Center and many others.

In their letter, the organizations cite refer to deficiencies in the proposal that are a “departure” from DICRA, including:

• A lack of accountability to ensure state and local police are actually reporting the data.

• A failure to condition federal funding on adequate reporting.

• A disturbing reliance on media reports instead of police departments for data.

• A lack of clarity on how DICRA applies to federal agencies.

• An absence of a clear definition of the word “custody.”

The groups expressed specific concern about the lack of consequences for not reporting accurate data because “voluntary reporting programs on police-community encounters have failed.”

The letter says only 224 of the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies reported about 444 fatal police shootings to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2014, “though we have reason to believe that annual numbers of people killed by police exceed 1,000.”

“The loopholes in these regulations are cavernous,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “You can’t fix what you can’t measure.”

Henderson added, “Police departments should report deaths in custody when they happen — it should be that simple. But these regulations make it clear that DOJ would rather bend over backward to accommodate police departments’ dysfunction or reluctance. There should be simple procedures so that police can provide complete and accurate data or face clear consequences for non-compliance.”

The groups also want the regulations to include a broader range of potential areas of police misconduct.

“To achieve complete and uniform data collection and reporting, the federal government must solicit disaggregated data that is reflective of all police-civilian encounters, including those encounters with people of color, women, and people with disabilities. Data concerning sexual assault and misconduct by law enforcement agents should also be collected and reported,” the letter stated.

Tom Stoppard calls it a ‘frightening time’ for free speech

Playwright Tom Stoppard said he will accept PEN’s highest award next month in New York to help put a spotlight on a “frightening time” for free expression.

Stoppard is to accept the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award, the highest honor bestowed by the American chapter of the global human-rights organization of writers and editors.

“People like me are chosen, in a sense, to represent what PEN and other organizations are doing 24/7. So I can say I’m proud to represent them,” the playwright said.

Charlie Hebdo, the Parisian satirical magazine that was a target of a deadly shooting in January, also will be honored. Staff member Jean-Baptiste Thoret, who barely escaped the attack that killed eight of his co-workers and four others, will receive the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award.

Stoppard, who has campaigned for oppressed artists and political dissidents in Eastern and Central Europe, said threats to free speech are worse now than ever, from radical Islam to U.S. government surveillance.

“The problem is deeper and, really, much more complicated. I think it’s quite a frightening time,” said the playwright, who scripted the Oscar-winning film “Shakespeare in Love” and has written plays including “Arcadia” and “The Real Thing.”

“You kind of stand there in your Western idea of what morality is and what amorality is and suddenly you’re not quite sure. You thought you’d always known what was which and suddenly, you’re not sure. This is the fate of thoughtful people as the century unfolds.”

In addition to the Paris attack, PEN executive director Suzanne Nossel pointed to other moves against writers, including a gunman who opened fire on a Copenhagen cultural center in March and a South African novelist confined for comments she made in appreciation of Salman Rushdie.

“It is a climate of hair-trigger sensitivity to certain kinds of speech and a very dangerous moment for writers who are seated in the crosshairs,” said Nossel. “It is a tough moment on many fronts.”

Stoppard said he and fellow artists have lately found it difficult to tread the line between a desire for absolute right of free expression and the hope of being respectful to those with different beliefs and creeds.

“The Charlie Hebdo massacre was an appalling body shock to anybody who cares about life, let along literature. You are left thinking, ‘Well, if it comes to making a choice here, clearly one has to choose that one should be allowed and entitled to offend without being murdered for it,’” he said.

“That seems self-evident. That doesn’t mean that one is in harmony with the attitude or the particular instances of what is being said and written and drawn.”

Also at the gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle will be cited for “his leadership role in the global literary community.” And the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award is going to jailed Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

On the Web…

Online: https://pen.org

ACLU sues Miami-Dade over law forcing former sex offenders to live by railroad tracks

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida sued Miami-Dade County and the Florida Department of Corrections seeking a permanent injunction against a housing ordinance that is extraordinarily difficult for former sex offenders to follow without becoming homeless.

The law prohibits former offenders from living 2,500 feet — almost half a mile — from any building the county labels a “school,” a category the county has enforced arbitrarily since the ordinance went into effect in 2010.

This restriction has left about 50 former offenders with nowhere to live other than an outdoor area along railroad tracks on the outskirts of Miami-Dade county. Each night, they sleep in chairs, in tents, and under tarps, without running water or shelter from the weather.

“As public policy, the Miami-Dade ordinance is a disaster. It has created a homeless population living outdoors in squalor, while doing nothing to serve public safety,” said Brandon Buskey, staff attorney at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “Disease, exposure to the elements, no drinkable water — these conditions make it extremely difficult to find and maintain stable employment and psychological treatment, which are the only two factors proven to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. We know from decades of research that housing restrictions like Miami-Dade’s have no impact on reoffending and, are more likely to increase it.”

Finding affordable housing for former offenders is so futile under the Miami-Dade ordinance that probation officers routinely direct supervisees to the railroad tracks, recording the tracks as the person’s “address.”

“Sending someone just out of jail into homelessness makes no sense, not for the person and not for the public. The Miami-Dade ordinance is not just unworkable, it’s unconstitutional,” said Nancy Abudu, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida.

For years, county officials have shuffled former offenders around Miami-Dade. Officials broke up the infamous shantytown under the Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge in 2010, only to create another, lesser known encampment in the Miami neighborhood of Shorecrest. Since officials disbanded that tent city, the area by Miami’s railroad tracks has become the only possible location for scores of individuals.

The ACLU of Florida Greater Miami Chapter has assisted in this case.