ACLU Findings Alerted DC Council to Failure of Oversight of Police Spying; D.C. Auditor Now Agrees to Do Its JobOctober 21, 2011
The D.C. Auditor has agreed to evaluate MPD reports of spying on First Amendment activities, after ACLU revealed in testimony in March 2011 to the D.C. Council that that office had refused for four years to carry out the Council’s mandate.
The Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has agreed to a new policy that will for the first time respect the First Amendment right to wear religious head scarves in police holding facilities such as district stations and the central cellblock.
The ACLU has asked Metropolitan Police Department officials to investigate an incident widely reported in June when police making an arrest in the District's Chinatown neighborhood demanded a bystander give up her cellphone she had used to photograph the officers in the street. Police told the woman her actions were unlawful, seized the phone and kept it for a week before returning it without the pictures. The ACLU wrote DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier asking for a review of the incident so that it can be a teachable moment--leading to development of new policy and education for officers that citizen photography is welcome not punished.
As part of a massive coordinated nationwide information-seeking campaign, on August 3 the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital sent a request for records to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), as did 33 other ACLU affiliates across the nation that filed a total of 379 reqeusts. The requests, to MPD and hundreds of local law enforcement agencies large and small, demand to know when, why and how police are using cell phone location data to track Americans. The campaign is one of the largest coordinated information act requests in American history. In its response, the MPD released no substantial records and the ACLU plans to appeal.
On Tuesday, November 23, the D.C. Council passed, on "first reading," three bills of interest to the ACLU.
Over our opposition, the Council passed Bill 18-63, the “Residential Tranquility Amendment Act of 2010,” which would make it a crime for three or more persons to conduct a completely peaceful, quiet, non-threatening demonstration in front of someone’s residence if the demonstration takes place at night, or if the demonstrators wear masks, or if they have not provided the police with advance notice of the demonstration. For more details, please read our letter to the Council on Bill 18-63. We will try to have amendments introduced at second reading.
The Council also passed Bill 18-425, a comprehensive revision of the District's antiquated disorderly conduct laws. We strongly supported this bill, although we supported a few amendents that were not made. Details are here.
The Council also passed Bill 18-893, the Anti-SLAPP Act. A “SLAPP” is a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” -- an abusive lawsuit filed for the purpose of deterring people from participating in public discussion and debate. We strongly supported this bill as well. Details are here.
UPDATE: The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in this case on November 8, 2011.
On October 3, the ACLU-NCA, together with the National ACLU, filed its amicus brief in the Supreme Court in this important case, which asks whether the Fourth Amendment's protection of personal privacy will stand in the face of technological advances that can enable the government to learn almost anything about anyone.
Without a warrant, the FBI and DC police attached a GPS transmitter to Mr. Jones' car, turning his vehicle into a surveillance device that informed the police, every 10 seconds for 28 days, exactly where the car was. The government says that was OK, because when a person travels on public streets and roads any bystander can see his car. But no bystander can see a car everywhere it goes for 28 days.
Our brief draws an analogy to the landmark case of Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), in whch the Supreme Court rejected the government's argument that no search warrant was needed to attach a listening device to the outside of a telephone booth to eavesdrop on the conversation inside, because the outside of the phone booth was not a private place. The Court ruled that “the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public . . . is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. . . . But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.” Here Mr. Jones did not knowingly expose every detail of his travels for a month to the public. Like the content of Mr. Katz's telephone calls, the route of his travels should be constitutionally protected.
Our client in this case was detained, interrogated, and ultimately arrested at the St. Louis airport when TSA agents found approximately $4,700 cash in his carry-on bag. TSA has statutory authority to conduct administrative searches for threats to transportation, but it has no authority to search for evidence of ordinary crimes, and its conduct here also violated the Fourth Amendment because carrying $4,700 in cash does not create probable cause to believe that any crime has occurred or is afoot. (In fact, the cash was income from the sale of books, T-shirts, and similar items at a political event.)
We filed this class action on behalf of about six dozen people who were falsely arrested in the Adams Morgan neighborhood on the evening of Inauguration Day 2005, when other people engaged in vandalism along the route of an impromptu protest march after leaving a “Counter-inaugural Ball.” The police pepper-sprayed and arrested many people who were guilty only of walking or standing in the street.
In June 2008, Judge Huvelle ruled that because the police could not identify which of the people it arrested had actually broken the law, all the arrests were unconstitutional.
The ACLU regularly files lawsuits to redress incidents of police misconduct and end unconstitutional police customs and practices. We actively support reforms such as civilian review boards that would reduce the incidence of police abuse and empower its victims, and were instrumental in the creation of the D.C. Office of Police Complaints—an independent agency that investigates complaints of police misconduct.
Some forty D.C. Metropolitan Police Officers who are School Resource Officers (SROs) within the D.C. Public Schools received training from the ACLU-NCA and its partners in preparation for the upcoming school year.