Blog of Rights

This Week in Civil Liberties (8/31/2012)

By Rekha Arulanantham, ACLU at 4:02pm

What agreement, being negotiated in secret, is a threat to free speech and intellectual property?

What does a rape victim think about politicians’ views on “legitimate rape” and a woman’s right to choose?

Which social networking company is appealing a court decision in order to protect one of its user’s right to free speech?

What new lie-detection technology could turn into a privacy nightmare?

Which ACLU affiliate has prepared helpful resources on First Amendment rights at the the DNC?

The Biggest Threat to Free Speech and Intellectual Property That You’ve Never Heard Of

As we have seen in the failed attempts of SOPA/PIPA, and the floundering Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, intellectual property (“IP”) laws are often poorly constructed, hastily proposed and ultimately both ineffective and potentially abusive.

Now, the latest threat to free speech in the guise of IP reform is a multilateral trade agreement currently being negotiated (in secret) by the Office of the United States Trade Representative. That agreement—the Trans-Pacific Partnership—would reportedly include dramatic changes to intellectual property laws, changes that could potentially permit the patenting of plants, animals, and medical procedures.

Silent No More: A Rape Survivor Speaks Out About “Legitimate Rape”

“As a rape victim, you can imagine then my outrage when Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) claimed that in a “legitimate rape,” a woman’s body will shut down and prevent a pregnancy from happening. It made me stop and wonder, ’Would they try to qualify my rape too?’ It certainly is rare for a rapist to use a condom, but it doesn’t change the deed.  What blows my mind about this entire situation is not the fact that Rep. Akin thinks something like that is even biologically possible, it’s that all of a sudden his fellow Republicans were calling for him to step down from the Missouri Senate race. While Rep. Akin might wish he’d phrased his comment differently, his purpose was to convey what many of his fellow party members believe: abortion should be outlawed, no matter the circumstance.”

Twitter Appeals Ruling in Battle Over Occupy Wall Street Protester’s Information

Twitter just filed its brief appealing a June decision by a New York criminal court judge requiring the company to give the Manhattan district attorney detailed information on the communications of Twitter user Malcolm Harris, an Occupy Wall Street protester charged with disorderly conduct in connection with a march on the Brooklyn Bridge.

As we did before, the ACLU will file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Twitter. You can find Twitter’s brief from this week here and the ACLU’s brief here. Last week, Harris filed his own appeal as well.

High-Tech “Mind Readers” Are Latest Effort to Detect Lies

One group of technologies that we’ve had our eyes on for a while are those that purport to read minds. On Sunday, the Washington Post ran an article on a Maryland case where a murder defendant is trying to introduce Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) “lie detector” evidence in his defense. It allows researchers to look at neural activity in realtime by using powerful magnets to trace blood-flow changes in the brain.

Know Your Rights at the DNC!

Earlier this week, we told you about your RNC-related rights, and now we’ve pulled together similar resources specific to the Democratic National Convention.

Get Involved

Defend Free Speech at the RNC and DNC
As we mentioned before, while the First Amendment protects our rights to free speech and assembly, police and government officials are allowed to place certain nondiscriminatory and narrowly drawn "time, place and manner" restrictions on the exercise of First Amendment rights. These restrictions must apply to all speech regardless of its point of view, but this does mean that how these rights manifest themselves do vary from state to state and city to city.

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