The work of defending civil liberties goes on

ACLU of Pennsylvania Executive Director Reggie Shuford addresses the crowd at the “Show Love for the Constitution” event. | February 15, 2017. (credit: Ben Bowens)

Dear supporter,

In some ways, our country changed on November 8. The United States elected a leader who, by all measures, is hostile to the basic foundations and principles that we stand for. President Trump and his regime deserve every ounce of pushback we can gather, and the ACLU will be on the front lines of the resistance.

And yet, at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, we have always taken the long view. Issues that are with us today were with us before November 8 and, to one degree or another, would have continued regardless of who was elected, including mass incarceration, police brutality, inequality for gay and transgender people, and efforts to compromise women’s access to reproductive healthcare.

You may have heard that there has been a major increase in giving to the ACLU since the election. While much of that growth has occurred at the national level, in fact, here in Pennsylvania, our membership has tripled. We saw a notable rise in donations after Election Day, but the real surge of giving happened after the weekend of the Muslim Ban. It was in that moment that many Pennsylvanians realized the significance of the threat to our values and to the people we most cherish.

You have put your trust in the ACLU in these challenging times. We are grateful for that trust and take it as a responsibility. Thank you.

The generous outpouring of support we’ve received in recent months has allowed us to think big about our work. It is my intention to add new staff to our existing staff of 22. Our current team has the talent, skills, and persistence to take on the many challenges before us. I also know that we can advance the cause of civil liberties throughout Pennsylvania by bringing even more talented people on board. The times demand it. Your support enables it.

In the months ahead, you’ll hear more about our Smart Justice campaign, our effort to reform, reinvent, and revamp the criminal justice system; our Transgender Public Education and Advocacy Project; the campaign for District Attorney in Philadelphia; the many bills we’re advocating for and against at the state capitol; and more litigation to push back against government excesses wherever they occur.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania is prepared to thwart the Trump administration’s worst instincts as they play out in the commonwealth.

And state and municipal officials aren’t off the hook. We’re working with immigrant communities to monitor federal immigration enforcement tactics while also standing with municipal governments that insist they won’t bend to every demand of ICE. We’re insisting that the commonwealth keeps its commitment to open beds for people who are too ill to stand trial and are being warehoused in local jails. We’re working at the state legislature to defeat efforts to hide the identity of police who seriously injure and kill people and to hide video that captures police brutality from the public. And we are active in ongoing struggles to diminish police presence in schools, to stop rollbacks of women’s reproductive healthcare, and to fight the practice of jailing people for their debts.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania has the infrastructure and the experience to defend civil rights at every turn. Consider some of our recent work:

  • Our legal team successfully freed travelers who were detained at Philadelphia International Airport the weekend of Muslim Ban 1.0, our advocacy team supported the protests at airports in Philly and Pittsburgh, and our communications staff echoed the message to #LetThemIn.
  • Two weeks ago, we settled a lawsuit against the School District of Lancaster for denying enrollment at its regular high school for older refugee students. Older refugee students will now be able to attend the regular high school instead of being segregated at an alternative school.
  • Over the last month, our legislative director has been busy at the state capitol in Harrisburg lobbying against efforts to reinstate mandatory minimum sentencing, which has been suspended for two years due to court rulings.
  • In tandem with allies, our advocacy team has launched the Philadelphia Coalition for a Just District Attorney, an effort to push the candidates for district attorney to commit to reforming the criminal justice system.
  • Last week, our lawyers filed to intervene to defend a school in Berks County that has been sued for affirming its students’ gender identity. We’re representing a transgender student and a youth advocacy organization who would be harmed if the lawsuit successfully overturns the school’s practice.

These five examples are just from the last two months. In fact, four of them happened in the last two weeks.

My favorite playwright, Pittsburgh native August Wilson, said this about gratitude in his play Two Trains Running:  “You walking around here with a ten-gallon bucket. Somebody put a little cupful in and you get mad ’cause it’s empty. You can’t go through life carrying a ten-gallon bucket. Get you a little cup. That’s all you need. Get you a little cup and somebody put a bit in and it’s half-full.”

Well, thanks to you, our ten-gallon bucket runneth over.

Onward!

Reggie Shuford
Executive Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Endgame for DNA Collection Debate?

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

DNA Collection

For five years, the ACLU of Pennsylvania has fought legislation to collect and store DNA from people who have not been convicted of a crime. The varying forms of the legislation demanded DNA collection from people who had been arrested for or charged with certain crimes, flipping the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” on its head.

In each of the last two sessions, a bipartisan coalition of state representatives has turned back the legislation when it has reached the House. If you follow the personalities of state politics, check out this amendment vote from 2012. Those voting “yea” voted to remove the preconviction collection provision from that bill. Yes, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County) and Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Pittsburgh) voted together, along with a host of liberals and conservatives and moderates.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee took up yet another version of this legislation. But instead of moving the bill along with the offending language, as the committee has done in the past, Chairman Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin County) offered an amendment to remove the language that requires DNA collection from people who have been arrested. His amendment replaced it with expansion of the current postconviction collection to include all first-degree misdemeanors and some second-degree misdemeanors.

While some civil libertarians won’t like expanding the post-conviction practice, which is currently for all felonies and a few misdemeanors, stopping across-the-board, blanket DNA collection from people who have not been convicted is, in the words of Vice President Biden, a big (frickin’) deal. Twenty eight states and the federal government collect DNA from people who have been arrested or charged but not convicted, and in 2013, a divided Supreme Court upheld the practice.

The privacy implications of preconviction DNA collection are huge. First, the government must jam a swab into your mouth or pluck a hair from your head or take blood to get a DNA sample. (The swab is the most common form of the practice.) In that practice alone, the government is in choppy privacy grounds in invading the person of someone who is still considered innocent under the law and in doing so without a warrant approved by a court.

Then, the government takes that very personal, very private information and uploads it to a database at the Pennsylvania State Police, which is linked to a query system at the FBI called the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. Remember, our DNA contains more than 1,000 identifying characteristics about us. And while the profile created for these databases only contain the markers that identify a person, don’t kid yourself. The infrastructure is in place to store more. If you’re acquitted or never charged or exonerated, you have to go back to court to get your DNA profile out of the database.

Of course, every win comes at a cost. The Marsico amendment maintained and actually worsened language in the bill on “modified DNA searches,” or what are more commonly known as familial searches. You and your family members share DNA. The more distant the relative, the less DNA you share. If this language becomes law, a law enforcement agency can go to the state police and ask for a modified search. PSP would then determine if the evidentiary sample is a close enough match to someone in their database that it could be linked to a family member of that person. If your troublemaker cousin is in the DNA database, you’re in the DNA database.

(If any of my cousins are reading this, apologies for throwing you under the bus.)

Senate Bill 683 contains all sorts of requirements before a familial search can be conducted, but the Marsico amendment added language that prohibits a person from challenging an arrest, conviction, search, or any other investigatory action because the law enforcement agency did not follow the requirements. So the limitations on familial searches are, essentially, meaningless.

This will probably be a contentious issue if and when this bill makes it to the House floor. Familial searches are highly controversial. And in its opinion upholding Maryland’s arrestee DNA law, the Supreme Court suggested that familial searches may be unconstitutional.

This bill still has several steps to go before it is finished, so no one is declaring victory. But the House Judiciary Committee, for the first time in three tries, recognized that the will of the legislature- and, specifically, Republicans and Democrats in the House- wasn’t there to pass a bill to collect DNA from people who have not been convicted of a crime. That’s a BFD.

Read more about Senate Bill 683

Poor and Need Help? Please Pee into this Cup

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

One of our ongoing challenges at the ACLU is explaining the subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, nuances of constitutional law to the public. Take government-run drug testing.

Untitled

In the run up to passing the state budget, a state House committee passed legislation that would require applicants for public assistance to submit to a questionnaire for the purpose of flagging them for drug testing. Those who are flagged would then be required to take a drug test. One positive test would lead the person to a referral for drug treatment while maintaining their assistance. A second positive test would ban the person from assistance for a year.

We dealt with a similar bill with similar arguments last session that required school teachers to be drug tested. That bill passed the House but was not considered in the state Senate. This issue really is the worst combination of legislative sausage: Legislators can score cheap political points due to the ignorance of the public and the public’s hostility to poor people on assistance while making terrible law.

Here’s the most common argument for a bill like this: “Private employers drug test their employees. Why not for welfare?” Another argument we’ve heard is that there are government workers who are drug tested–police officers, highway workers, the military–so people who get public assistance should, too. I don’t expect the general public to understand the twists and turns of the Fourth Amendment. But legislators who write the law have an obligation to know better.

Let’s review the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Essentially, if you have an expectation of privacy, the government cannot search you without suspicion, i.e. probable cause, that you’ve committed a crime and without an order (a warrant) from a court of law.

To drug test someone, the government would have to secure a biological sample- like urine or blood- from the person. We feel quite strongly that a person has an expectation of privacy in her biological samples. That is not a wild-eyed, radical notion.

The arguments of supporters are not comparable to drug testing for assistance. First, a private employer is not required to follow the Fourth Amendment. (Drug testing by private employers gets into another argument about privacy in the workplace and the foolishness of the failed War on Drugs. But that’s a discussion for another time.)

Second, the government can drug test police officers and highway workers as a condition of employment only because they fall into the narrow public safety exception to the Fourth Amendment. The police and highway workers drive vehicles as part of their work, and the police are armed. Applicants for assistance and public school teachers don’t fall into that exception.

The purpose of the questionnaire in House Bill 1380 is to establish suspicion to justify the drug test, thus avoiding the Fourth Amendment problem. But states that have tried the applicant screening approach have found that so few of the people who are flagged actually test positive that it really cannot be argued that the screening even creates suspicion.

Meanwhile, the creators of one of the screening questionnaires that states are using has said that their questionnaire was intended as a therapeutic device, not to create suspicion to deny people employment or public assistance.

The legislation before the state House does a real disservice to people in poverty and to constitutional law. Our hope is that leaders in the General Assembly will resist the urge to score political points and let this one die quietly on the vine.

Learn more about HB 1380

Andy Hoover is the legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. His mobile phone is decorated with an ACLU sticker that says, “Get a warrant.”

Invasion of Privacy or Public Safety Measure?

By Paul Anderson, Larry Frankel Legislative Fellow, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Police Body Camera

The recent tragedies in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, Los Angeles and now Madison have thrust questions of how law enforcement interacts with members of the public into the national spotlight. One issue of specific focus has been available technologies that would—ideally—allow for greater oversight and accountability of officer interaction with the public. Body-worn cameras that record interactions made during an officer’s shift have advocates from both the police and civilian worlds. Members of the public believe that recording of encounters will better document potential police misconduct and provide greater transparency over state actors, and some parties in law enforcement envision body cameras can be valuable tools to increase public trust in the police.

Police body cameras are an admittedly thorny issue for the ACLU because of the potential for placing two equally compelling interests on a direct collision course. The aforementioned desire for greater accountability of state actors is offset by privacy interests of individuals who are recorded. Any body camera policy, whether imposed by the General Assembly or implemented at the municipal level, must delicately balance these interests.

At the outset, the police should have a near-zero discretion policy in turning off the cameras during encounters with the public. The only exceptions should be for conversations involving crime victims or witnesses. Too much latitude in powering off the cameras will inevitably lead to manipulation by some officers, as shown in a recent excessive force lawsuit in St. Louis.

In addition, all subjects should be made aware that their interactions with police are being recorded, but higher standards should govern in certain circumstances. For example, a recording inside a person’s home should be permitted in a non-emergency situation only with the consent of the residents or pursuant to a valid search warrant. Similarly, policies should accommodate crime victims and witnesses who request that a camera be turned off before divulging sensitive information.

The actual recording of encounters is not the only aspect of body cameras that raises significant privacy concerns. Storage policies must also be especially sensitive of individual privacy interests. Retention policies, like all other components of a comprehensive policy, should be directed to promote government oversight or other public interest. The interest in holding the state accountable is much lower when there is no evidence or accusation of police impropriety. Therefore, videos without any public or investigatory interest should be deleted as soon as is feasibly possible. Recordings that either involve significant police escalation or involve an incident that a civilian complains about should be retained longer, even if they are not being used in any criminal proceeding. The social interest in these recordings is much higher, meaning they should be retained and made available, in redacted form if necessary.

Finally, it is important to remember that use of body cameras is, at bottom, designed to permit greater public oversight of government behavior, not vice versa. Therefore, any legislation should include sweeping prohibitions against the use of body cameras as a general surveillance tool. The potential for misusing cameras to secretly record First Amendment activity- such as political protests or religious activity- is significant enough to create a demand for policies that explicitly disavow this type of monitoring.

Body cameras are not a panacea. In the Staten Island incident, a bystander captured video evidence of an officer using a chokehold on Eric Garner that was in violation of NYPD policy. Even though the coroner ruled Garner’s death was a homicide caused by compression of the neck and chest, a grand jury still declined to indict the officer responsible. Given deeper questions of structural inequality underscoring the current policing landscape, it is unlikely that increased recording of encounters alone will sufficiently restore public trust. However, body cameras can provide a potentially useful additional level of government oversight, as long as any legislative or administrative policies are developed with a clear and principled balancing of two crucial—and occasionally competing—interests.

Paul Anderson is the Larry Frankel Legislative Fellow at the ACLU of Pennsylvania and a third-year student at Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

Victory! PA House conservatives, liberals, moderates team up against expansion of DNA collection

By Paul Anderson, Larry Frankel Legislative Fellow, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Harrisburg Capitol

For the second consecutive legislative session, a bill that would greatly expand when law enforcement could collect your DNA has failed to pass in the state legislature. The bill would have invested a lot of additional money into the existing state DNA database, and more alarmingly, it would have required state police to collect DNA samples from individuals who were arrested for specific crimes, even if they were never actually charged.

The new collection would have been introduced gradually, covering only people arrested on suspicion of murder in the first year of implementation before expanding to felony sexual offenses in the second. By the third year, however, the mandate expands to arrestees of ALL felonies and certain specified misdemeanors. Even if an arrestee was never charged (let alone convicted) of the crime, the DNA sample would remain in the database unless the person filed a written request for removal and the request was granted.

We strongly opposed this bill. It almost goes without saying that everyone has an expectation that his or her genetic makeup will not be extracted and stored in a government database. To allow the police to collect and store DNA evidence even before charges have been filed violates this bedrock principle of privacy that is crystallized in the Fourth Amendment. (See – Our Work: In The Legislature)

Supporters of this bill got a win in the United States Supreme Court in 2013, when the court upheld Maryland’s arrestee DNA collection procedure as an adequate identification procedure. We—and many other groups and individuals—disagreed with the court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment and were incredibly cynical about the claim that arrestee DNA collection was primarily used for identification and not investigation, but because they ultimately interpret the Bill of Rights, our tactic had to change slightly. We were prepared to make a case that even if arrestee DNA collection is permissible under the Fourth Amendment, it still violates the search and seizure provision of the state constitution. The PA Supreme Court has articulated some scenarios where the state constitution affords a higher level of protection that the Fourth Amendment, but it can be a difficult argument to make and sell to legislators.

Fortunately, we never really had to make that argument. DNA collection expansion provoked strong opposition in the House, as numerous representatives expressed serious concerns about how this bill would encroach on people’s privacy. The opposition was truly bipartisan—members who could be described as very conservative, very liberal, or moderate all expressed their disapproval of such an extreme expansion of law enforcement’s power, and many of the representatives who helped defeat the bill in the 2011-12 session were willing to stand once again against the proposed DNA expansion. This opposition encouraged us greatly, and when it became clear that House Leadership was not going to act on the Senate bill, we were optimistic that the fight might be over.

In the final two weeks, however, the Senate revived DNA expansion by amending it into an unrelated online impersonation bill that the House had already passed. This was the Senate’s Hail Mary pass, as it hoped enough House members would be supportive of the online impersonation bill to overlook the DNA language that had been added.

Fortunately, our House allies came through for us again. After the bill passed the Senate, the House Rules Committee quietly removed the DNA amendment as violating the state constitution’s Single Subject Clause before there was any opportunity to debate the substance of the DNA amendment itself. With that, the House ended any fear that the arrestee DNA collection bill would pass this session.

The last two sessions have made it clear that there is definitely motivation within Senate leadership to expand DNA collection within the commonwealth, so we may have to fight a bill like this again next year. Hopefully, the failure to pass the bill in two consecutive sessions sends a strong message to the Senate that this is not a policy that the people of Pennsylvania support, but if the Senate remains insistent that this bill should pass, then those of us in Harrisburg next session will continue our efforts to lobby against this bill and any other proposed policy that would dramatically encroach on the privacy rights of Pennsylvanians.


Paul Anderson is the 2014-15 Larry Frankel Legislative Fellow at the ACLU of Pennsylvania and a third year student at Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

You’re on The Grid. And so is your government.

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Map

State laws on privacy – June 2014 (click to enlarge)

When talk around here turns toward privacy in our use of electronic technologies and everyday activities, my mind goes straight to the Jason Bourne movie franchise and its characters’ references to popping on and off “the grid.” Although the Bourne series is fiction, it’s not a stretch to think of today’s electronic technologies as “the grid,” even for those of us who aren’t trained CIA assassins. And we shouldn’t have to escape to a beachside hut in India to escape the government’s probing eyes.

At the end of June, the ACLU released an interactive map that illustrates how well states are keeping up with protecting the people’s privacy in an age of evolving technologies. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania isn’t.

The ACLU examined state law on four key topics- government access to mobile location data, electronic communication data, and license plate reader data, and government use of drones. Utah, Tennessee, and Maine protect their residents’ privacy in at least three of those areas. Seven more states protect privacy in at least two of those issue areas. Pennsylvania, meanwhile, has no protections in state law on any of these topics.

Here in the commonwealth, we’ve been too busy fighting off new legislative initiatives for the government to expand its collection of your personal data to think much about making the law better. In the 2013-14 session, we’ve dealt with a bill to create a government-run database of prescription medication records and another bill to collect DNA from people who have been merely arrested but not convicted of a crime.

The former has been tied up in part due to privacy concerns- among Democrats and Republicans- over the bill’s loose standard for prosecutors to access the database. The latter should be dead after Public Source published findings last month that 30,000 arrestees in Pennsylvania in 2013 were never fingerprinted, leading one to reasonably wonder how police are going to add DNA collection to their duties.

And alarm bells went off throughout the capitol (figuratively) in April when the state Supreme Court ruled that police officers no longer need a search warrant issued by a court to search a stopped vehicle. While the court maintained the constitutionally-sound “probable cause” standard, it removed the neutral third party- the judge- to determine that the officer actually reached the standard. That will force Pennsylvanians who are unfairly searched to fight it after the fact. Numerous state legislators and staff approached me after that ruling to say, in so many words, “WTF?”

All is not lost, though. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has teamed up with legislators from both parties to stop or at least neutralize awful legislation that would undermine privacy over the last two legislative sessions. The ground is fertile to push back with initiatives that enhance privacy in Pennsylvania and that keep the government from expanding its reach into our business.

Unless you’ve found a way to live electronic-free (and you’re reading this blog so I assume you haven’t), you’re on the grid. You shouldn’t have to choose between modern conveniences and your right to be free from government snooping. State lawmakers need to hear that message, too.

Andy HooverAndy Hoover is the legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. That means he lobbies, even though his colleagues often ask him, “How can you stand it?” He goes onto the grid on Twitter, @freedomsfriend.

Breaking Down Barriers. But Not in a Good Way.

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Earlier this week, I had the chance to give a talk at the annual meeting of our south central PA chapter. The chapter always likes to get an update on what up at the General Assembly, so I oblige them.Also, they meet at a bar. So there’s that.

I started by raising three issues and asked our members to note what these bills have in common:

  • The creation of a prescription drug monitoring program (House Bill 317), run by the state government, in which they would collect personal data about people who receive prescriptions for medications on Schedules II through V of the federal controlled substances act. The existing bills on this topic, including HB 317, are extremely weak on privacy protections. Among other problems, every bill allows law enforcement to snoop in the database without a search warrant and without a finding of probable cause. They never have to tell a court what they’re doing.
  • The collection of DNA samples from people who have not been convicted of a crime (Senate Bill 150). DNA would be collected from people who have been arrested but not convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors and then sent to the DNA databanks of the Pennsylvania State Police and the FBI. The government would not need a court order to collect the sample.
  • The use of an administrative subpoena to obtain personally identifying information about an individual from an internet service provider in child sex offense investigations (House Bill 90). An administrative subpoena is issued by a prosecutor’s office and is not reviewed by a court. Under current law, prosecutors need to obtain a search warrant from a court to get this information.

You can detect the pattern here. All three of these issues involve advances in technology and easing the government’s ability to obtain personal information about private citizens. Not surprisingly, all three bills are supported by the Pennsylvania  District Attorneys Association and the Office of the Attorney General, as they are currently written.

This is a disturbing trend. We are heading into territory where government officials will use technology to break down the walls between us and them. The revelations about the NSA’s metadata collection have made that obvious.

They have to be stopped. Two weeks ago, Rep. Matt Baker of Tioga County announced his intent to introduce a prescription drug monitoring bill, so last week we asked our supporters to drop a note to their state rep to ask him or her to not co-sponsor the Baker bill.

Their appetite for our personal information is insatiable, and they’ll only stop if they hear an outcry from the people.