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This Week in Civil Liberties (10/4/13)

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October 4, 2013

What justification did the employer of an Ohio woman use when it fired her after learning she was pregnant?

How does the Affordable Care Act have the opportunity to expand potential voters’ access to the ballot?

Why is the CIA’s refusal to make public information related to the agency’s involvement in the targeted killing program problematic – and absurd?

Which ineffective, privacy-infringing, or otherwise abusive FBI programs undermine civil liberties and should be cut?

Why won’t the NSA provide a straight answer when asked whether it is tracking ordinary Americans’ cell phone location information?

Taking a Stand Against a 21st Century Scarlet Letter

This Tuesday, the ACLU filed suit in federal court on behalf of Jennifer Maudlin, a single mother who was fired when her employer learned that she was pregnant. Jennifer's employer – a religiously-affiliated community organization called Inside Out – says that it fired her for violating its unwritten rule against non-marital sex. In Jennifer's workplace, pregnancy became a "scarlet letter," marking unmarried employees for termination.

Why Tuesday Was a Big Day for Voting Rights

Tuesday marked the opening of the health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. In addition to expanding access to affordable healthcare, the opening of the health exchanges also has the opportunity to dramatically expand access to the ballot. You see, one-third of uninsured Americans are also not registered to vote. And under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA)—also called the "motor voter law"—agencies that provide public assistance, like the new health insurance exchanges, must also provide voter registration services. Because of this law, both the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House have acknowledged that the health insurance exchanges operated by, or in partnership with, the federal government must offer voter registration services.

In Court Tuesday: Challenging the CIA’s Targeted-Killing “Secrets”

As a result of a remarkable stream of revelations these last few months about the National Security Agency's vast and invasive surveillance apparatus, we now know many more details about the NSA's previously hidden domestic spying activities, capacities, and goals — secrets that, until June, we didn't know (even though we should have). On Tuesday, the ACLU appeared before a federal appeals court in New York in a case concerning a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU seeking the government's legal and factual bases for the "targeted killing" of three American citizens. The dispute principally concerns the gap between what the CIA maintains is secret about its involvement in targeted killing — that is to say, everything beyond its "intelligence interest" in the program — and what has been officially and publicly acknowledged by government officials.

Axe Wasteful and Abusive FBI Programs

According to the Washington Post, new FBI Director James Comey is struggling with an FBI budget shortfall as a result of the sequester (even though the FBI budget more than doubled since 2001). Since we just finished Unleashed and Unaccountable, a detailed examination of the transformation of the FBI since 9/11, we thought we'd offer the new director a few ideas about programs that deserve to get the axe, because they're ineffective, undermine innocent Americans' privacy and civil liberties, or simply offend American values.

It Sure Sounds Like the NSA Is Tracking Our Locations

The drumbeat of “non-denial denials” is getting louder as the NSA continues to refuse to directly state whether it is using cell phone information to track Americans’ whereabouts. When NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander was asked again about the NSA’s cell phone location tracking last Thursday at a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he tried to qualify his response by limiting it to NSA data-gathering “under Section 215,” then dodged the question when asked to clarify whether the NSA had ever collected or made plans to collect such information. Finally, he indicated that the real answer is classified. The NSA has earned a reputation for cagey wordplay, and this exchange only serves to further confirm that pattern of evasion and doublespeak.

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