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Restore the Fourth: Grassroots civil liberties activism is back and better than ever!

Restore the Fourth rally on the Federal Building, NY


It’s the Fourth of July, and we’re fighting for our civil liberties.

me, in 2008, to the Senator Obama – Please, No Telecom Immunity and Get FISA Right mailing list

Five years later, grassroots civil liberties activism on social networks is back and better then ever.  Back in 2008, we were organizing online, trying to stop the disastrous FISA Amendment Act, and Barack Obama had just responded to our open letter.  We lost that battle, but the fight goes on … and today it went to the next level at Restore the Fourth‘s rallies across the country:

New York

How cool is that?

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Day of Action, Monday, June 17: Tell the TSA to End Nude Body Scanners

With less than two weeks left to comment on the ‘nude body scanners’ in airports — and civil liberties on the front pages — it’s time for a final push to get the word out.  So a loose coalition of grassroots volunteers and privacy and civil liberties organizations is calling for a “Day of Action” on Monday June 17.  If you’re sick and tired of wasting billions of dollars and giving up your rights and dignity whenever toy fly, read on for how you can help — and why it matters.

Effective comments – and why they matter

Back in 2010, EPIC sued the Department of Homeland Security to prevent the “advanced imaging technology” (aka nude body scanners) from being used as primary screening in airports.   The court ruled against them on most counts, but agreed that the TSA had violated the law by failing to get public feedback before introducing the machines.  The TSA finally started the ‘rulemaking process’ in March this year, and the deadline is on June 24.

People and organizations can submit comments online via regulations.gov, or by FAX or mail (see the first comment for information on FAX and mail).  The number of comments sent in to the TSA matter. If the TSA doesn’t get a lot of comments, they’ll say it shows that most people don’t have any problem with the body scanners or TSA’s other security procedures. But if there’s a much more vocal response, it’s much harder for the TSA to ignore them – they’re required by law to reply to all the issues that are brought up in the commenting period.

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Tell the TSA what you think about nude body scanners!

Airline passengers have been walking through full-body scanners for nearly five years, but only now are fliers getting a chance to officially tell the federal government what they think about the screening machines.

In response to a lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit ruled that the Transportation Security Administration could continue to use the scanners as a primary method of screening passengers. But the court ordered the TSA to give the public a 90-day comment period, which the agency did not do when it launched the scanning program.

The TSA began the comment period online in March, and so far it has been getting an average of 26 comments a day — nearly all of which blast the TSA and the scanners for a variety of reasons.

— Hugo Martin, Public Gets Chance to Comment on TSA’s Full-body scanners, LA Times, April 21

There are now over 4500 comments on regulations.gov, and sentiment continue to be overwhelmingly against the scanners.   There are so many reasons to oppose them, it’s hard to know where to start: rights, effectiveness, cost, fairness, culture … see the Twitter Privacy chat discussion or EPIC’s preliminary analysis (PDF) for more details.  So it’s a golden opportunity for the loose but broad coalition fighting for a more sensible and less abusive approach to airport security to get the word out about the commenting  period and encourage people to submit their own comments.

This is one of the situations where numbers are important.  If the TSA only gets a small number of comments, they’ll say it shows that most people don’t have any issues and it’s only a “tiny but vocal” minority who is complaining.  But if there are a lot of comments, it’s much harder for the TSA to ignore them (they’re required by law to reply to all the issues that are brought up in the commenting period).  A loud enough outcry is likely to get media coverage and maybe even help politicians realize that hey, there’s an issue here that can make them very popular with their constituents!

So to start with, please file your own comments.  The most effective comments use your own language, instead of cut-and-paste boilerplate.  EPIC recommends that commenters support “Regulatory Alternative #3″ (the use of walk through metal detectors and explosive trace detection devices), support the right of passengers to opt out, describe the devices as “Nude Body Scanners”, and include personal experiences.   See below for instructions on how to use the regulations.gov to submit comments — as well as how to send them in by FAX or mail if you prefer.

Once you’ve done that, here are a few easy ways you can help get the word out:

  1. Share links on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, and whatever social networks you hang out on.  A few good links to share: EPIC’s summary page, the direct link to the “docket” on regulations.gov, and the Slashdot thread, articles from Mashable and the Verge, or this blog post!
  2. Email links to people and mailing lists you think will be interested.
  3. Look for tweets on the #tsacomments and #tsa hashtags (or from @TSAComments) and retweet them
  4. Look for good comments on regulations.gov, and tweet them or share them on your favorite social networks.
  5. If you blog, write a short post.   Consider including your comments (or at least excerpts from them), and make sure to include a link to the regulations.gov page.
  6. Sign up for Reddit, and vote up TSA-related stories.  [Why Reddit?  It’s been a hotbed of activism on other civil liberties issues like SOPA and CISPA, and there’s a lot of political discussion there as well, so there are likely to be a lot of allies there.]

Question: what other suggestions do people have?

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Anti-TSA video goes viral!

Jonathan Corbett’s video has over 800,000 views in the last couple days, despite YouTube censoring it for a while (possibly because the  title has “nude” in it).    The Travel Underground thread is the epicenter.  The rough chronology:

Mike Masnick at TechDirt and Steven Frischling on Flying With Fish point out that there’s nothing new here: security experts have been talking about the scanners’ high error rate and vulnerabilities to exploitation for years.  But video footage makes it very compelling.  And the spread through the tech community highlights that the same kind of grassroots coalitions that mobilized against SOPA are possible on other civil liberties issues — like the TSA, for example, and the PATRIOT Act and FISA next time they come up for renewal.

There’s plenty of other learning too, so it’ll be interesting to watch things unfold. Stay tuned!

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Blog for Choice Day: What will *you* do to help elect pro-choice candidates in 2012?

Today’s the anniversary or Roe v. Wade, and this year’s Blog for Choice Day topic is “What will you do to help elect pro-choice candidates in 2012?”  Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but reproductive rights remain under assault.  The Obama Administration’s hand-wringing before finally denying an religiously-affiliated hospitals an exemption from the requirement that they provide contraception, and the strident anti-choice rhetoric from all the Republican candidates, show just how far the window has shifted.  It’s time to move things back.

Here’s what I’m doing:

  • My vote and my volunteering time are “in play” in 2012.   Along with civil liberties and LGBTQ issues, one of the things I’m judging Obama, Cantwell, gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee and other candidates on is how assertively they’ll fight for women’s right to choose.
  • And I’ll continue to raise awareness, with friends online and off, and discuss the issue.  Yes, I get in people’s face when they make excuses for anti-choice politicians — or downplay the importance of the issue.  [I’m looking at you, Ron Paul supporters.]

What are you doing?

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Happy f—ing Bill of Rights Day

the Bill of RightsBoth houses of Congress have passed the #NDAA codifying indefinite detention — and Obama’s happy with the language, so won’t be vetoing it.

Meanwhile even as I write this, the House is debating #SOPA.

Remember back in 2006-8 when the Bush Administration rammed through PATRIOT Act reauthorization and FISA? Obama was on the right side for a while — at least until July 2008, when he broke his promise to filibuster. Now, he’s continuing and building on Bush policies. Senator Chris Dodd was heroic on FISA; now, he’s working for the MPAA and using China’s internet policies as a blueprint for the US. And how about Patrick Leahy, bulwark of civil liberties — and co-sponsor of the Senate equivalent of SOPA?

It’s not that I think the Republicans are any better on the whole. Both parties have a few standouts on civil liberties — Wyden, Nadler, the Pauls. But on the whole, the political establishment continues to show itself remarkably unconcerned with Americans’ rights.

Here’s hoping that in 2012 we’ll start to do something about it.

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Constitution Day 2011: Freedom not Fear

In the aftermath of my events on Sept. 11, 2011, I feel violated, humiliated and sure that I was taken from the plane simply because of my appearance. Though I never left my seat, spoke to anyone on the flight or tinkered with any “suspicious” device, I was forced into a situation where I was stripped of my freedom and liberty that so many of my fellow Americans purport are the foundations of this country and should be protected at any cost….

This country has operated for the last 10 years through fear. We’ve been a country at war and going bankrupt for much of this time. What is the next step?

— Shoshana Hebshi, Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit, Tales from the Heartland

The F-16 fighters that had shadowed the plane before it landed in Detroit and the SWAT team that dragged Shoshanna and her two Indian seatmates from their seats was responding to the crew’s report that … somebody had been spending too long in the bathroom. On the same day, F-16s also scrambled for another flight where … three people made repeated trips to the bathroom. WTF?

Following a catastrophic national event, such as 9/11 in the United States, conditions are anything but ordinary. The people are traumatized, they long for someone to make them feel secure, and an ancient paranoia switch is once again waiting to snap on. Under these conditions, fear mongers thrive. Their characteristics are so hand in glove with the trauma reaction of the population that their identifying behaviors are scarcely “seen” at all. In short, after we have been thoroughly traumatized, we cannot see the devil.

— Martha Stout, The Paranoia Switch

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What Diaspora (and everybody else) can learn from Google+ (DRAFT)

DRAFT!  WORK IN PROGRESS!  FEEDBACK WELCOME!

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Equal Pay Day: Pay Equity and Startups

Next Equal Pay Day: Tuesday, April 12, 2011

American women who work full-time, year-round are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. This gap in earnings translates into $10,849 less per year in female median earnings, leaving women and their families shortchanged. The wage gap is even more substantial when race and gender are considered together, with African-American women making only 62 cents,and Latinas only 53 cents, for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.

National Women’s Law Center

Equal Pay Day is the date that symbolizes how far into 2011 women must work to earn what men earned in 2010. This year, it’s April 12.

The Paycheck Fairness Act was reintroduced in Congress today (after being killed last December by a Republican filibuster), and more recently the AAUW’s come out with anothre report, The Simple Truth About the Pay Gap, demolishing the arguments of the guys who deny there’s a problem.  My posts from the last couple years ( #fairpay and Women Don’t Ask and What would it mean if women were paid as much as men?) cover a lot of this, and as always, there’s a lot of great stuff being written — check out the #fairpay hashtag for links.

After all that it’s hard to come up with something new to talk about.  So let me just spend a moment on the area of gender equity I’m personally most involved with right now: representation of women at startups.

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PATRIOT Act Update: After a successful call-in day, the focus shifts to Congress

Thousands of patriots fought their way through jammed White House phone lines on April 5 to call on President Obama to keep his campaign promises by vetoing any PATRIOT Act extension unless it includes substantial new protections. The timing was perfect, just a day after he launched his re-election campaign. Now, the focus shifts to the House and the Senate.

EFF logo“All day long, we received reports of phone lines being flooded with calls, so that people couldn’t even get through,” says EFF’s activism director Rainey Reitman, “In the coming weeks, we’ll look to harness this energy into future actions in the fight against overbroad government surveillance.”

The two-week Congressional recess from April 18-May 1 is a great opportunity for “in-district” meetings with Representatives. Several clauses of the PATRIOT Act will sunset unless Congress extends them by May 27. Most Democrats support reform, and more and more Republicans are coming out against overbroad legislation, so it’s a great opportunity — but on the other hand, there’s also the risk of a permanent extension. So now’s the time for action.

Executive Director Shahid Buttar of Bill of Rights Defense Committee explains, “With the Obama White House pushing a Bush administration policy, the next step is for Congress to check & balance documented executive abuses under the PATRIOT Act — and for We the People to press our congressional representatives to do their jobs.”

BORDC has some great suggestions about how to set up and prepare for a meeting — including “you don’t have to go it alone”, “outline your interests”, and “follow up”. They’ve also got a couple of optional preparation phone calls scheduled for next week. sign up on their web site if you’d like to be notified. ACLU’s Congressional testimony hearing has some great talking points, and so do Downsize DC, EFF, and BORDC.

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PATRIOT Act reform: phone the White House on April 5

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On April 5, 1792, President George Washington vetoed a bill — the first time in U.S. history that the presidential veto was exercised. On the anniversary of this day, we’re calling on Barack Obama to exercise his presidential powers to veto any PATRIOT Act renewal bill that does not include powerful reforms to safeguard civil liberties.

EFF’s action alert

As a candidate, Obama repeatedly promised to reform the PATRIOT Act. He also promised Get FISA Right, in his response to our open letter, that he’d ask for “recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.” With the battle in Congress over key clauses of the PATRIOT Act heating up again, now’s a great time to ask him to live up to his campaign promises.

The legislative situation is very fluid. Several clauses of the PATRIOT Act will sunset unless Congress extends them by May 27. It’s a great chance to introduce reforms; on the other hand, there’s also the risk of a permanent extension. More and more Republicans are coming out in against the extensions; grassroots Tea Partiers and Libertarians as well as Rand and Ron Paul are strong on civil liberties, and other Republican Congressmen like Jason Chaffetz have voiced their concerns about overbroad legislation as well.

Legislation in the House is likely to drop soon. In the Senate, Leahy’s S. 193 will be the basis for a floor debate, with amendments likely to be proposed by both sides. The Obama Administration supports S.193, but many privacy and civil liberties organizations support the JUSTICE Act’s much stronger protections, including better oversight of the use of national security letters (NSLs) as repeatedly recommended by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General, more effective checks on “sneak and peek” searches , and roving wiretaps, and revising the “material support” standard to require that prosecutors prove that defendants knowingly intended their support to further violent extremism.

By taking a strong stand for civil liberties, Obama could help shape the upcoming Congressional debate.
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Save the Rave: AB74 improves, SFPD asks for ID Scans and Surveillance Cameras

BILL NUMBER: AB 74 AMENDEDThis act shall be known and may be cited as the Raves Safety Act

Two days after the San Francisco Youth and Entertainment Commission’s hearing on electronic dance music at San Francisco City Hall, Hillary posted the amended language of AB74 in the Save the Rave Facebook group.  It’s a huge change.  Instead of criminalizing all electronic dance music events over 3 1/2 hours long the way the original bill did, it’s now focused on ensuring that promoters have a safety plan — and it only applies to events with more than 1000 people on state properties.  And a lot of the specific requirements are very sensible, for example the health and safety section should cover “whether the promoter should provide free water, whether the promoter should prohibit any person under 18 years of age from attending the event, adequacy of ventilation, attendance capacity, and exit signs.”

Hmm … where have I heard that before?

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