Act Now to Expand Civil Liberties in Massachusetts
Over the last several months, regular Open Media Boston viewers will have seen my periodic notices mentioning that I was only writing editorials infrequently while completing my MFA in Visual Arts at an area university.
Well, now I'm almost finished with that program and I'm slated to graduate soon. So, I just wanted to let folks know that I expect to be back to writing regularly by late July, and that the OMB staff will continue producing top quality articles throughout the next few weeks while I'm busy.
However, it would be remiss of me not to at least touch on the crisis of the moment - the revelation that the US government is spying on its own citizens at least as much as it spies on countries like China. As Daniel Ellsberg said in the Guardian UK, "In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago."
No time to discuss the situation at length, but I wanted to make sure that OMB viewers were aware of five state-level privacy initiatives by the ACLU of Massachusetts. Some of the proposed legislation would stop local and state police from engaging in the same kind of civil liberties violations that the federal intelligence services have apparently been doing with impunity for years now. All of the bills strengthen civil liberties protections in the Commonwealth in important ways.
Here are descriptions of each bill from the Mass. ACLU website
The Electronic Privacy Act: setting out warrant requirements for phone, internet, and location tracking
Sen. Spilka & Rep. Walz: S.796; H.1684
This bill would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant to access our personal electronic information--details of our telephone use, our contacts, our location, and our email and other communication--from the telecommunications companies we pay for phone and internet services. It would bring accepted long-standing Massachusetts law and practices governing search warrants into the digital age.
The Drone Privacy Act: regulating the use of aerial surveillance vehicles
Sen. Hedlund & Rep. Garry: S.1664; H.1357
We think of drones as controversial tools of warfare and killing, but this remote controlled aerial surveillance technology is also increasingly of interest to local law enforcement. While the Federal Aviation Administration will regulate drones' use of US airspace, it is up to state lawmakers to ensure that this emerging technology is used responsibly in Massachusetts--without weapons, of course, and not for warrantless surveillance of residents. Read more about the Drone Privacy Act.
The License Plate Privacy Act: regulating automatic license plate readers
Sen. Creem & Rep. Hecht: S.1648; H.3068
Automatic license plate readers--an increasingly common technology for identifying vehicles associated with outstanding warrants, registration violations, and parking enforcement--should continue to be used for legitimate enforcement purposes, but should not be used to track innocent motorists. This bill identifies appropriate uses for ALPR technology and protects drivers' privacy by restricting government retention of license plate location information beyond those specified uses.
The Free Speech Act: ending surveillance of political activity
Sen. Chandler & Rep. Lewis: S.642; H.1457
Police should not monitor and track people's First Amendment-protected activity, or amass poorly defined “intelligence” about their speech and associations in giant databases.
This bill would prohibit law enforcement from collecting information about individuals' political and religious views, associations, or activities--unless it relates directly to a criminal investigation based on reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct.
The Password Protection Act: keeping social media from snooping employers
Sen. Creem & Rep. Coakley-Rivera
A growing number of employers are demanding that job applicants and employees give them access to their private social media accounts such as Facebook, making them hand over their passwords or disclose the contents of their accounts. Schools are requiring students to do the same.
H.1707: Rep. Coakley-Rivera's bill would prohibit coercive access to social media accounts by employers.
S.852: Rep. Creem's bill would apply to both employers and schools.
While the bills listed above won't protect Bay State residents from similar malfeasance by the federal government if enacted into law, they will help improve the situation on the state level - and their passage will certainly create legal precedents that can be used to win similar victories on the national level.
Of course, I also think that people have to do more than push politicians to back decent legislation.
People need to get into the streets on this stuff. And you all need to talk it up with family, friends and passers-by every chance you get.
I don't think any of us want to find ourselves in some kind of really bad totalitarian society in 5, 10, or 20 years down the line and have to say to themselves "back in 2013, Americans really saw our civil liberties being trampled on across the board in a major way ... and we could have stopped that trend cold then ... but we didn't act fast enough, broadly enough or decisively enough to effect change ... and now here we are."
Think about that and act appropriately in civil and democratic fashion always.
All that heavy stuff aside, have a great first month of summer and I'll be back in late July.
Jason Pramas is Editor/Publisher of Open Media Boston