Monday, February 28, 2011

ACLU of WI Issues Letter to DOA on Fair Access to Capitol

Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin in a letter to Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Michael Huebsch insisted that the Secretary ensure fair access to the Capitol. The Department has restricted access to the Capitol by citizens wishing to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly.

ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty said, "We felt compelled to write the Secretary as his emerging directives impose unwarranted content-based restrictions on those visiting the Capitol Building."

The ACLU's letter reads in part, "Prohibiting protesters on either side of the debate from entering the Capitol during normal business hours or during legislative hearings or sessions, while allowing others with 'business' in the Capitol to enter, is manifestly content-based and, hence presumptively unconstitutional."

Ahmuty, said of the letter, "The ACLU of Wisconsin and its members across Wisconsin want a prompt answer to the concerns and requests in our letter to Secretary Huebsch. The rights of our fellow Wisconsin residents can't be suspended or curtailed for administrative convenience or political posturing."

During the last two weeks the ACLU of Wisconsin and cooperating attorneys have deployed volunteer legal observers at and around the Capitol on a nearly continuous basis to protect the rights of all demonstrators to peacefully protest to distributing "bust cards" to protesters and by monitoring the authorities for violations of rights.

The full letter and ACLU of Wisconsin statement is available on our website. For current information on the conditions at the Wisconsin state Capitol, please follow the ACLU Madison office on Twitter or visit our Twitter page.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Privacy Rights Online - Who is Checking You Out? A Discussion on 4th Street Forum

Did you catch this week's 4th Street Forum on Milwaukee Public Television? The topic was on data privacy rights and the ACLU of Wisconsin's Executive Director Chris Ahmuty was among the guest panel to discuss current trends.

During the conversation on current issues in data privacy, Ahmuty talked about the concerns ACLU members have about data mining by the government and their privacy online, even in a time of social networking and sharing.

He also discussed the lesser-known topic of government data fusion centers (check out the ACLU's national map), locally known as the Wisconsin Statewide Information Center. He spoke about the abuse of threat assessments on anti-abortion protesters who demonstrated at a UW Regents meeting (read more: ACLU of WI quoted in blog post from The Progressive magazine).

Other topics included employment discrimination related to social media posts and Wisconsin's Circuit Court Access Program, the potential reauthorization of Patriot Act provisions and a discussion of the fact that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act hasn't been updated since 1986.

Enrique Figueroa hosted this edition of 4th Street Forum called, "Privacy: Checking You Out." Other guests included Dr. Michael Zimmer, co-director, Center for Information Policy Research at UW-Milwaukee; Tannette Elie, independent on-line news journalist; and Bruce Boyden, JD BRUCE BOYDEN, JD, assistant professor of law at Marquette University Law School.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

ACLU of WI Urges WI Senate to Reject Hasty Move to Repeal Racial Profiling Data Collection Law

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is dismayed legislators are seeking to repeal a new tool for police managers seeking to identify and address possible racial profiling in officer initiated traffic stops. Today the Senate Committee on Transportation and Elections voted to send SB-15 to the full Senate for a vote to repeal our state's new traffic stop data collection system.

On January 1, 2011 most law enforcement agencies across Wisconsin began collecting data from traffic stops and searches which includes the actual or perceived race or ethnicity of the motorists they stop. The intention of the new traffic stop data collection system is to make it possible determine if a law enforcement agency or one of its units is disproportionately stopping minority motorists. If so, the agencies' leaders would be able to investigate and determine the degree to which the disparity may be the result of biased policing.

At the public hearing on the bill to repeal traffic stop data collection, it was clear there was a lot of confusion about the new system. The ACLU of Wisconsin testified at the bill's public hearing on February 16, 2011 urging legislators to address problems with implementation rather than denying that biased policing can happen here. Very small agencies may not have the computer capacity to automatically load most of the data requested at the time of a traffic stop -- however -- that is no reason to scuttle a useful and manageable way to address a real problem for law enforcement all across our state.

To give up on a data collection system, that like most other data systems, is bound to have glitches during startup, suggests that opponents of data collection do not take bias in policing seriously. Wisconsin residents from across Wisconsin during a series of listening sessions in late 2009 told of their well-founded concerns. Wisconsin law enforcement officials, community leaders, and national experts were involved in the development of the new system for the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance. If the Senate votes to repeal traffic stop data collection, it will send the wrong message. Rather than being problem solvers, they will be moving against the mainstream of law enforcement professionals nationwide who are committed to eliminating bias in policing.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Legal Observers Protect Right to Assemble and Speak

As protests have sprung up around Wisconsin this past week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation has organized specially trained, neutral observers to be witnesses to interactions between police and demonstrators. With more protesters on both sides of the public debate over the budget repair bill expected this weekend, the ACLU will continue to have observers monitor the demonstrations and the law enforcement response. The ACLU has also widely distributed information about protesters’ rights and responsibilities by handing out its popular “bust cards” at protests and by posting on internet and social media sites all week.

The ACLU observers, often wearing yellow “ACLU Legal Observer” t-shirts, have received formal training from ACLU staff and volunteer lawyers about protest rights, working with police and documenting observations of police activity. The observers are trained to remain neutral, rather than to participate in protest activity. The presence of legal observers may help defuse confrontations between protestors and police, deter police misconduct and provide evidence for subsequent legal actions.

Stacy Harbaugh, the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Community Advocate, said, “Our legal observers have been present throughout the protests in Madison and elsewhere in the state this week. We are working with volunteer lawyers to deal with any trouble spots that may arise. Thus far, the protests have been largely peaceful and the various law enforcement agencies have handled the demonstrations well. We hope that trend continues, both here and around the state.” Harbaugh also encouraged people who witness arrests or other police action to help in the monitoring effort by contacting the ACLU or the Hawks-Quindel law firm at (608) 257-0040. Special thanks to all of the volunteers and attorneys who have helped thus far.

For live tweets from the Capitol on the rights of protesters, please follow @ACLUMadison.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

ACLU of Wisconsin Reaffirms Workers' Rights to Collectively Bargain

Christopher Ahmuty, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin issued the following statement in response to Governor Scott Walker's proposal to restrict the collective bargaining rights of most public employees in Wisconsin. Ahmuty's statement may be quoted as follows:
"The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin urges the State Legislature to reject those portions of the budget repair bill that curtail government employees’ rights to organize and collectively bargain over the terms and conditions of their employment. These labor rights are aspects of the First Amendment rights of freedom of association and speech. Private and public employees alike, through their association with other persons in a labor union, must have the ability to seek compensation, benefits and other working conditions through collective bargaining with their employers."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Protest rights: Top 5 Things To Know During Demonstrations

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation sent volunteer legal observers to witness the large-scale protests in Madison and Milwaukee. In Madison the protests have gone largely without incident and with full cooperation between law enforcement and activists despite the estimated 10,000+ demonstrators picketing inside and outside the Capitol each day.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation would like to affirm the rights of protesters to peaceably assemble. As the demonstrations continue this week, we want to remind activists about the top five things to remember when demonstrating:

1. Signs with sticks are not allowed in the Capitol building for safety reasons. Paper signs are allowed.

2. Peaceful demonstrations are allowed, so long as they don't violate other people's rights. However ignoring police orders is not allowed. The police may not shut down a demonstration entirely, but may put reasonable limits on the time, place and manner of a protest. If police issue orders to protesters to leave an area or to otherwise conform to announced rules, protesters who ignore orders could be subject to citation or arrest.

3. Be a good observer. Document any problems at demonstrations with notes (time, location, details) and especially with cameras. The National Lawyers’ Guild has a guide for trained legal observers that is an excellent resource on how to document protests (PDF).

4. An individual under arrest should say nothing to law enforcement without their attorney present. Please see the ACLU of Wisconsin Guide for Demonstrators (PDF) for more details on what Constitutionally protected activity. Criminal behavior is not protected by the First Amendment. For more information on interacting with law enforcement, please see our bust cards for Milwaukee (PDF) and Madison (PDF).

5. Protests in public spaces like sidewalks and in the Capitol within a reasonable time, place and manner are allowed. In general, protesters have the most rights in outdoor public spaces like public sidewalks and the Capitol grounds. As long as the protest is peaceful and does not block traffic, most protest activities are allowed in such spaces. Inside buildings like the Capitol, however, authorities may impose more limits to ensure that government functions are not interrupted.

As protests continue, we remind everyone to take care of themselves, cooperate and continue to exercise their free speech rights without problems or incidents.