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This Week in Civil Liberties (06/01/12)

Rekha Arulanantham,
Litigation Fellow,
ACLU National Prison Project
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June 1, 2012

Which government agency uses factually flawed and biased information in counterterrorism training materials?
What law, which discriminates against married same-sex couples, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court?
In which state did the ACLU file a lawsuit on behalf of same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry?
A constitutional amendment in which state could disenfranchise thousands, including service members on active duty, who choose not to carry their drivers’ licenses while deployed?
What technology did law enforcement use in New Bedford, Mass. to eavesdrop on Americans’ conversation?
Manufacturing a “Black Separatist” Threat and Other Dubious Claims: Bias in Newly Released FBI Terrorism Training Materials
In a throwback to the J. Edgar Hoover-era COINTELPRO investigations targeting civil rights and anti-war activists, the FBI is now training its agents to be on the lookout for “Black Separatist” terrorists, according to FBI training materials released this week by the ACLU. These new disclosures, obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation, are the latest in a growing flood of FBI training materials that include factually flawed and biased information.

ACLU Lens: Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down DOMA
A federal appeals court in Massachusetts ruled this week that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it denies married same-sex couples the same federal benefits available to other married couples.

It’s About Love: Same-Sex Couples in Illinois Seek the Freedom to Marry
This week the ACLU and the ACLU of Illinois filed a lawsuit seeking the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in Illinois. The lawsuit is being coordinated with Lambda Legal, which filed a similar suit on behalf of additional couples this week.

From Missouri to Minnesota: ACLU Takes Aim at Another Misleading Voter ID Ballot Initiative

The ACLU filed a petition this week with the Minnesota Supreme Court on behalf of voters like Shannon Doty, seeking to strike a constitutional amendment from the general election ballot in November, which would require in-person voters to show government-issued photo ID. The amendment would require any voter who lacks photo ID to cast a provisional ballot, and also contains language that will make it more difficult to cast absentee ballots. Shannon is a 28-year-old Minnesota resident and a member of the Wisconsin National Guard. She is currently serving as a combat medic in Afghanistan. For obvious reasons, she doesn’t carry her driver’s license with her when she deploys and, as a consequence, may well be barred from voting absentee in the future.

Gunshot Detectors: the ACLU’s View

The New York Times has a story this week about gunshot location systems, which use microphones installed around a city to detect, and triangulate the location of, gunshots, so that police can be sent to the scene. The Times has discovered that in at least one city, however, the system recorded a loud street argument. And the recording, which was made in New Bedford, Mass., is likely to be at issue in the case against two men charged with murder. If the courts start allowing recordings of conversations picked up by these devices to be admitted as evidence, then it will provide an additional incentive to the police to install microphones in our public spaces, over and above what is justified by the level of effectiveness the technology proves to have in pinpointing gun shots.

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