Blog of Rights

This Week in Civil Liberties (07/12/2013)

By Rekha Arulanantham, ACLU at 3:53pm

By what percentage did SWAT team use increase from 1994 to 2002 in New York City alone?

What private prison company is a bad investment for shareholders, according to hactivist collective Anonymous?

U.S. actions towards which whistleblower threaten his right to seek asylum?

Which Oscar-winning director has taken a public stance against the NSA surveillance machine?

Which rapper underwent the standard operating procedure for force-feeding hunger striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay?

Too Many Cops Are Told They A’re Soldiers Fighting a War. How Did We Get Here?

Once limited to large cities and reserved for emergency situations like hostage takings, active shooters, or escaped fugitives, SWAT teams today are primarily used to serve warrants on people suspected of nonviolent, consensual drug crimes. The numbers are staggering. In the early 1980s, there were about 3,000 SWAT "call-outs" per year across the entire country. By 2005, there were an estimated 50,000. In New York City alone, there were 1,447 drug raids 1994. By 2002, eight years later, there were 5,117 -- a 350 percent increase. In 1984, about a fourth of towns between 25,000-50,000 people had a SWAT team. By 2005, it was 80 percent.

Anonymous Exposes U.S.'s Biggest Private Prison Company as a Bad Financial Investment

The oldest and largest for-prison company is not what it would have you believe, at least according to Anonymous. A faction of the hacktivist group released a report this morning concluding that the publicly traded prison operator Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is not an efficient, profitable free-market solution -- but a bad investment for shareholders.

U.S. Actions in Snowden Case Threaten Right to Seek Asylum

In addition to international and domestic outrage over the NSA's surveillance activities, much attention has been paid to Edward Snowden's whereabouts. (He continues to be stranded in the transit area of the Moscow airport from where he reportedly has sought asylum in at least 21 countries.)

While it remains unclear where Mr. Snowden will ultimately end up and how he will be able to leave Russia, U.S. actions to secure his extradition must take place within an acceptable legal framework protecting his right to seek asylum.

Oliver Stone: Don't Stand by While the NSA's Surveillance Machine Eats Our Civil Liberties

After The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed the astonishing scope of some of the NSA's surveillance activities, some people claimed that Americans wouldn't care. But Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone doesn't accept that.

In the video, produced by the ACLU, Stone discusses the NSA spying program, recalling a disastrous legacy of unchecked government abuse of power. He reflects on the terrible consequences of runaway surveillance during the 1960s and 1970s, when intelligence services exploited fears of external threats to the United States to enjoy a carte blanche for their illegal activities. "We did not pass the Fourth Amendment to protect those with something to hide," Stone tells us. We passed that amendment "because we know all too well the cost of an unaccountable government."

VIDEO: Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) Undergoes Force-Feeding Endured by Guantánamo Hunger Strikers

In a video posted by The Guardian, rapper Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, is filmed undergoing the standard operating procedure for force-feeding hunger striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The video, made by the human rights organization Reprieve and director Asif Kapadia, demonstrates the excruciating process endured twice a day by at least 44 prisoners at the prison. (Warning: the video is hard to watch and extremely upsetting.)

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