Blog of Rights

This Week in Civil Liberties (4/5/2013)

By Rekha Arulanantham, ACLU at 4:23pm

What slang term written on a standardized test earned a Texas teen the excessive punishment of 4-days suspension?

In which state did correctional center staff restrain and torture a prisoner with pepper spray?

Which cybersecurity bill's privacy holes would allow companies to share Americans' private information unrelated to cyber threats with the government and other companies?

Which ACLU affiliate released a report this week on the prevalence of debtors' prisons in Ohio?

Which religious leader washed the feet of twelve young prisoners and spoke on the importance of serving those whom society has forgotten?

YOLO: So Why Was a Texas Prankster Suspended When There Were Better Options?

Kyron Birdine, a high school junior in Arlington, Texas, didn't see much point to taking an extra standardized test that wouldn't be used to evaluate him in any way. So, instead of writing an essay on the STAAR test, Kyron protested by writing "I have the TAKS test to study for, not this unneeded craziness. Yolo. :)" and tweeting a picture to it to the Arlington Independent School District and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on Twitter. YOLO, of course, is the acronym for "You Only Live Once."

Apparently unamused, school officials suspended him from school for four days.

Shocking Video from Maine Prison Shows a Restrained Prisoner Being Tortured with Pepper Spray

"You're never going to win… Bottom line is the house wins every time."

That's what Maine Correctional Center Captain Shawn Welch said to a prisoner who was strapped into a restraint chair, his face coated with pepper spray and his legs shaking in pain and fear. The entire ordeal was captured in a disturbing video that recently hit the internet. After Captain Welch pepper sprayed prisoner Paul Schlosser in the face, Captain Welch ignored Schlosser's plea that he could not breathe; at one point, Captain Welch responds to Schlosser's pleas for help with the taunt, "Last I heard, I was as useless as tits on a bull."

CISPA Explainer #1: What Information Can Be Shared?

What information does CISPA allow companies to share?

The short answer: any information that "pertains" to cybersecurity, broadly defined to include vulnerabilities, threat information, efforts to degrade systems, attempts at unauthorized access, and more. You can see the full list on page 20 of the bill. You'll see that it's not tied to the criminal definition of hacking but instead forges new ground.

The Outskirts of Hope: How Ohio's Debtors' Prisons are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities

They are unconstitutional. They are against state law. And yet, debtors' prisons – jailing people because they are too poor to pay their court fines – are common across Ohio, according to a report released by the ACLU of Ohio.

New Pope Washes the Feet of 12 Kids in Prison: An Easter Reminder for the U.S.

Last week, while Christians around the world were preparing to celebrate Easter, the newly elected Pope Francis visited Casal Del Marmo, a youth detention facility in northwest Rome. To celebrate the traditional Holy Thursday Mass, the Pope washed the feet of 12 young prisoners.

Though popes traditionally wash the feet of 12 persons during the Holy Thursday service, Francis' decision to celebrate the mass at a prison marked a significant departure from previous popes who had elected to hold the event at the traditional venue of the St. John Lateran Basilica – a papal property near Vatican City.

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