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This Week in Civil Liberties (02/22/2013)

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February 22, 2013

How did President Obama respond when asked whether or not his administration can kill a United States citizen – while on U. S. soil – suspected of terrorist activities?

What new drone-based surveillance technology can track a car or pedestrian in high definition anywhere in the U.S.?

Which Florida university has granted sports stadium naming rights to a notorious private prison company?

Where might you come face-to-face with an immigration official if pulled over at “seatbelt” checkpoints?

Which states are weighing legislation to regulate the use of domestic surveillance drones?

The Softball Question That Wasn’t

During a Google+ Hangout event last week, President Obama was asked whether he claims the authority to kill a U.S. citizen suspected of being associated with al Qaeda on U.S. soil. Notice the question was restricted to only a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. The answer should have been a quick and categorical “no,” but instead President Obama echoed his nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, in stating that no drone attacks have been carried out inside the U.S. President Obama must disclose his administration’s full legal justification of the drones program. Secret rules for killing people, citizens and non-citizens alike, are neither compatible with transparency nor the rule of law.

Drone ‘Nightmare Scenario’ Now Has a Name: ARGUS

The PBS series NOVA recently aired a segment detailing the capabilities of a powerful aerial surveillance system known as ARGUS-IS, a super-high, 1.8 gigapixel resolution camera that can be mounted on a drone. ARGUS, which produces a high-resolution video image that covers 15 square miles and can be zoomed in upon any small area, is the culmination of the trend towards ever-more-pervasive surveillance cameras in American life, and makes real a key threat that drones pose to privacy: the ability to do location tracking. Part of the program remains classified, including whether it has yet been deployed.

Sponsoring Florida College Football Team Can’t Whitewash a Private Prison Company’s Atrocious Record

The GEO Group, a for-profit prison corporation headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, announced on Tuesday that it had secured the naming rights to Florida Atlantic University’s football stadium in exchange for a $6 million donation to the university’s athletic program. Of all states, Florida imprisons the second-highest number of prisoners – over 11,000, or approximately 11% of the state prison population – in private facilities, and only about 10 miles from the FAU stadium, GEO operates the Broward Transition Center, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center reserved for immigrants who have committed either no crime or a nonviolent offense.

The GEO Group has a horrific, well-publicized record of abuse and neglect. Last year, a federal judge issued a blistering order in a joint ACLU/Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit against a GEO prison that held children and teenaged prisoners in Mississippi, calling the facility a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions.” The $6 million that FAU accepted from GEO this week should not be viewed as a philanthropic gift, but as an effort to improve the company’s image after its highly publicized improper treatment of detainees. Meanwhile, 58% of the people in prison nationwide are African-American or Latino, and 30.3% are between the ages of 18 and 29. The FAU Owls football team will be sponsored by a company whose core business depends on the continued overincarceration of young people who look much like themselves.

Federal Government Set Deportation Quota – USA Today Reports on Records First Uncovered by ACLU

In a front-page story, USA Today made public the results of the ACLU of North Carolina’s investigation of the comingling of local law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) in the southeast. ICE officials participated in “seatbelt” checkpoints set up by state and local law enforcement, using the opportunity make sure their yearly criminal deportations measured up to last year’s numbers by interrogating drivers about their immigration status. Accounts of the Jackson County, North Carolina checkpoints suggest that sheriff’s deputies stopped only Latino drivers during the checkpoint and that drivers who were wearing their seatbelts were also pulled aside. This system promotes racial profiling by ICE officers and local law enforcement agencies and violates the right guaranteed by our Constitution to be treated equally under the law.

Status of Domestic Drone Legislation in the States

We’re currently seeing an unprecedented surge of activity in state legislatures across the country aimed at regulating domestic surveillance drones. Nineteen states have introduced such privacy protection bills, and almost all of the bills require law enforcement to get a probable cause warrant before using a drone in an investigation. If Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signs a bill that is on his desk now, his state will be the first in the country to enact this type of legislation, and place a moratorium on the use of drones until July 1, 2015.

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