Each Friday, we’ll bring you updates on the latest civil liberties news from Maine and the nation.
Obama's New Plan for NSA Reform
It's no secret that our government is regularly tracking the calls of its citizens. On Thursday, Obama unveiled his plan to halt the National Security Agency's mass collection of phone records. Under this proposal, the government would use court orders to request specific records from phone companies. In a written statement, Obama stated: ""I am confident that this approach can provide our intelligence and law enforcement professionals the information they need to keep us safe while addressing the legitimate privacy concerns that have been raised."
Anthony Romero, director of the American Civil Liberties Union, responded that this is only the beginning of surveillance reform. "Comprehensive reform should begin with passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, a bill that safeguards privacy while also ensuring that the government has the tools it needs to investigate real threats. We must restore the proper balance between security and our constitutional rights.”
Read more about the NSA and surveillance under the Patriot Act here.
A Sad Day for Texas
Not long ago, Texas passed a bill that requires abortion providers to have "admitting privileges" at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where they provide abortion services. As this requirement is impossible for many to meet, the law is having a devastating impact on women in Texas. When the law took effect, one-third of the state’s licensed health centers to stop offering abortion services. Women must now travel hundreds of miles to obtain abortion care. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas challenged this law in September 2013, along with Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights. On Thursday, a federal appeals court upheld that law.
Brigitte Amiri of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project wrote in her blog: "Today is one of the worst days in my professional career. I have been working to defend the rights of women and families to make their own private decisions about abortion for well over a decade. There have been wins and there have been losses. But no loss has been as profound as the one we got this week."
Unfortunately, this is not just an issue for Texas women. Similar laws have passed in Alabama, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Mississippi, and this ruling paves the way for even more laws that limit abortion access.
Read more about the court's decision here.
Apology from Secret Service Agents
A Pennsylvania woman, Debra Hartley, who walked 225 miles in protest at pay inequality for women in law enforcement will now get a formal apology from the Secret Service for their inappropriate and unconstitutional handling of the situation. When she arrived at her destination, the White House, two Secret Service officers approached her and told her that she could either leave or register as a protester with the Secret Service. As there is no law requiring a permit to stand on the White House sidewalk wearing a vest with a message (her vest had the words "Walking to the White House", Hartley complained the officers kept her from exercising her right to free speech.
The settlement includes an apology , a family trip to Washington, and requires that the officers and Secret Service lawyers attend an hour-long legal workshop with the American Civil Liberties Union.