Blog of Rights

The Fight to Take Back Our Genes

Myriad Genetics’ Latest Attempt to Maintain Its Monopoly on Our Genes Rejected

By Sandra Park, ACLU at 11:02am
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling invalidating patents on human genes.  The case was brought by the ACLU, along with the Public Patent Foundation, on behalf of 20medical organizations, geneticists, health advocacy groups, and patients and challenged patents controlled by Myriad Genetics on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.  Based on a 30-year-old U.S. Patent & Trademark Office policy, Myriad had obtained its patents on these two genes, which are closely associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer risk, and stopped other laboratories in the U.S. from providing genetic testing to patients, even when these labs wanted to offer different, more comprehensive, or less expensive tests. 
Relax, It’s Not the Thought Police

Relax, It’s Not the Thought Police

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:19pm

I get paid to defend unpopular speech. And, I’m the first to jump at the slightest hint of government censorship or coercion in the free market of ideas, as our recent comments critical of the IRS’s plans to regulate non-partisan political speech…

ACLU Defends Nonprofit Free Speech

ACLU Defends Nonprofit Free Speech

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Sandra Fulton, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:01pm

Political speech regulation remains an incredibly complex and contentious issue in our government, and there is plenty of legitimate concern about the recent influx of big, outside money in modern campaigns.

Those concerns, however, must be…

Pa. School District Pays $33,000 to Settle Cell Phone Search Lawsuit

By Suzanne Ito, ACLU at 3:34pm

On Wednesday, the ACLU of Pennsylvania settled a lawsuit brought on behalf of a former high school student, known as "N.N.," whose cell phone was confiscated and unconstitutionally searched by school officials.

The lawsuit charged…

"Ag-Gag" Not Just About Animal Welfare

"Ag-Gag" Not Just About Animal Welfare

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 9:54am

A story out of Utah this week neatly showcased the rising concerns among civil liberties and press freedom groups around so-called "ag-gag" laws, which, in various ways, make it illegal to document animal abuse on factory farms and other agricultural…

Political Speech on Facebook: Like this

Political Speech on Facebook: Like this

By Linda Lye, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California at 6:22pm

In a victory for free speech on the Internet, social network giant Facebook last week corrected a mistake that had the unfortunate consequence of blocking political speech and affirmed its commitment to serving as a neutral platform for political advocacy.

Why Gene Patents Are Unlawful

By Selene Kaye, ACLU at 11:46am

(Originally posted on ACSBlog.)

Last week the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. government's practice of granting patents on human genes - specifically, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are associated with breast and ovarian cancer. In the last 20 or so years the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has issued patents on thousands of human genes — the segments of DNA that we all have in our cells — giving private corporations, individuals, and universities the exclusive rights to those genetic sequences and their usage.

The patents on the BRCA genes are particularly broad and offensive. The PTO has granted Myriad Genetics, a private biotechnology company based in Utah, patents on both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic sequences, on any mutations along those genes, on any methods for locating mutations on the genes, without further specification on the type of methods, and on correlations between genetic mutations and susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer.

The lawsuit charges, as critics of gene patents have argued for years, that gene patents stifle biomedical research and interfere with patients' access to genetic testing. The lawsuit argues that the patents on the BRCA genes are unconstitutional and invalid given the long-standing legal precedent that "products of nature" and "laws of nature" are not patentable. The suit also makes the novel argument that the practice of patenting genes, their correlations with disease, and the thought of comparing two genes violates the First Amendment and interferes with scientific freedom.

International Organization Finds U.S. Violating the Rights of Protestors

International Organization Finds U.S. Violating the Rights of Protestors

By Allison Frankel, Criminal Law Reform Project, ACLU at 2:55pm

The right to peacefully assemble, enshrined both in the U.S. Constitution and international human rights law, is an intrinsic element of the democratic fabric of the United States. Yet according to a report released Friday by the Organization for Security…

Sexting, and What it Means to be a Girl

By Christopher Keelty, ACLU of Pennsylvania & Christopher Keelty, ACLU of Pennsylvania at 3:41pm

On January 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit heard arguments in Miller, et al. v. Skumanick, a child pornography case that, oddly, involves no child pornography. The case goes back to 2006, when two girls aged 12 were photographed…

The Privacy-Invading Potential of Eye Tracking Technology

The Privacy-Invading Potential of Eye Tracking Technology

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:42am

Eye tracking technology received new attention recently due to its inclusion in the Samsung Galaxy IV phone, where it can (with mixed results, according to reviewers) let users scroll the screen with their eyes or dim the screen when they look away.…