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This Week in Civil Liberties (06/14/2013)

Rekha Arulanantham,
Litigation Fellow,
ACLU National Prison Project
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June 14, 2013

The ACLU filed a lawsuit this week challenging which agency’s surveillance program that the government uses to spy on millions of ordinary Americans?

Which federal court invalidated patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 cancer genes?

The ACLU is suing the governor of which state for denying drivers licenses to young people who have been authorized to remain lawfully in the country??

How much does it cost per year to hold a detainee at Gitmo?

And now, a math question. Women’s salaries have increased, on average, 18 cents since 1963, when they earned only 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. How many more cents should they be able to earn in order to close the wage gap?

ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging NSA’s Patriot Act Phone Surveillance

The government is using provisions of the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act to regularly track all of the calls of millions of ordinary Americans and to spy on an unknown number of Americans’ international calls and emails. A Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order published by The Guardian indicates that a Verizon subsidiary is handing over the phone records of all of its customers to the National Security Agency on an ongoing basis. And a newly revealed NSA program—called PRISM—can access data from nine major internet companies, giving the government ready access to our emails, chats, Skype calls, and more.

This unprecedented surveillance strikes at the core of our right to free speech, association, and privacy. On June 10, 2013, the ACLU filed a motion with the FISA Court seeking the release of its secret opinions that enable the mass acquisition of phone records. The next day, we filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the phone tracking program.

VICTORY! Supreme Court Decides: Our Genes Belong to Us, Not Companies

Should companies be able to patent human genes? Yesterday, the Supreme Court answered that profound question with a resounding NO.

Seems like common sense, right? But over the last 30 years, the U.S. Patent Office has issued patents on thousands of human genes, including genes associated with colon cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and many other devastating diseases. The status quo meant that companies controlling gene patents had the right to stop all other scientists from examining, studying, testing, and researching our genes.

America is My Home and It’s Where I’ll Leave My Legacy

The American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit this week in state court against Gov. Dave Heineman and the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles. The lawsuit, Hernandez v. Heineman, challenges a decision by the governor to deny driver’s licenses to young people who have been authorized to remain lawfully in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The suit was brought on behalf of four named plaintiffs – all DACA recipients who were brought to the U.S. as children – who have grown up here, graduated from local high schools and are currently authorized to work in the country.

Guantánamo: A Betrayal of Our Values, a Human Rights Crisis, and Expensive as Hell

The House Armed Services Committee voted to approve HR 1960, otherwise known as the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014. Among the myriad national security issues that compete for attention in this bill is the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) has repeatedly characterized as an “international eyesore.” It is, of course, also a human rights disaster.

Yet while this moral and rights crisis continues to heat up, it may well be the fiscal crisis that boils over. According to Congressman Smith, who offered an amendment to lift the ban on transfers of detainees to the United States for detention and trial, it costs American taxpayers a whopping $1.6 million per detainee at Guantánamo – nearly 50 times the cost of holding inmates in federal Bureau of Prisons facilities.

Happy 50th Birthday, Equal Pay Act!

This Monday was the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act. On June 10, 1963, Congress enacted the first law to require employers to pay women the same salaries that they pay men.

Unfortunately, the promise of equality the EPA represented continues to remain elusive. Although equal pay has been the law of the land for 50 years, women, on average, still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. This is a mere 18 cent increase since the Act was signed.

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