The ACLU of Georgia was joined yesterday by a civil liberties coalition asking the Atlanta City Council to adopt reasonable limitations on the governmental use of drones for surveillance. To find out more about the effort, see our fact sheet here.
It's a crime-fighting tool that comes with controversy. The American Civil Liberties Union says they’re concerned about driver’s private information being easily accessible once their tags are scanned.
Chad Brock is the Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Georgia.
There have been instances throughout the country in which this type of information is being shared. We'll consider sending an opens records request to try to get a little bit more information about how they intend to use this, what kind of policies are in place to prohibit this type of information being used in the way that violates the privacy or rights of these individuals," said Brock.
Declare an emergency session of the State Legislature to limit the use of SWAT to situations in which it's truly necessary to save a life. We cannot wait till the next regular session in 2015.
Nearly 80% of the SWAT raids the ACLU studied* were to serve search warrants, usually in drug cases. SWAT teams are forcing their way into people’s homes, often in the middle of the night, using paramilitary weapons and tactics and doing needless damage to people and property. Poor communities and communities of color bear the brunt of this unnecessary force.
It does not have to be this way. We can make sure that police honor their mission to protect and serve, by ensuring that hyper-aggressive military tools and tactics are only used in situations that are truly “high risk.”
Right now, a twenty-month-old toddler named Baby Bou Bou is recovering after a flashbang grenade thrown by a SWAT officer in Georgia exploded in his crib. The grenade blew a hole in his chest that has yet to heal. Doctors are still unable to fully assess lasting brain damage. This unnecessary tragedy demands immediate action.
Community members, faith leaders, and elected officials across the aisles are building a movement to limit the use of SWAT to situations in which such aggressive tactics are truly necessary to save a life. This would be the first effort of its kind and set a precedent for other states.
We need to let the Georgia legislature know that people across the country are watching. Baby Bou Bou’s case is one of many casualties of a drug war that is being fought with heavy artillery and waning public support, mainly in poor communities and communities of color. If we can urge Georgia to pass a landmark bill, that will be a crucial first step in the right direction to limit the excessive use of SWAT across the country.
Will you call on the Georgia state legislature to address this problem now, before more kids lose their lives because of this excessive militarization?
The primary mission of this Conference is to continue the building of a broad based Coalition that will develop strategies collectively on the approaches necessary to END the New Jim Crow in Georgia & the United States. Becoming increasingly organized locally will contribute more to the growing national movement to STOP MASS INCARCERATION.
Which of these groups does not belong with the others: the ACLU, the tea party, Common Cause or Americans for Prosperity?
If you think they could all fit in a coalition under the Gold Dome, give yourself a peach-colored star.
This era is known for its polarization in Washington, and Georgians on the left and the right certainly have their differences about how state legislators should address certain issues. But unlike in national politics, diverse coalitions still can and do emerge on high-profile state issues.
The ACLU and Common Cause have reputations as liberal groups, particularly nationally; the tea party and Americans for Prosperity lean solidly to the right. But representatives of those four outfits, along with the libertarian Institute for Justice, are pushing legislators to change Georgia’s civil asset forfeiture laws -- which allow law enforcement to confiscate private property without a criminal conviction, or in many cases even a criminal charge.
Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police can take people's money and property without making an arrest. They just have to suspect the assets are tied in some way to illicit activity. Since much of the money police seize ends up paying their own salaries and bankrolling their departments, they have a strong incentive to abuse these laws.
If you would like to learn more about the ACLU of Georgia’s efforts to reform civil asset forfeiture in Georgia, please sign up for our legislative action alerts at http://www.acluga.org/get-involved/action-alerts/
Watch the video here: https://www.aclu.org/policing-for-profit
Following the Federal District Court’s order today in Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, et al. v. Deal, et al., a coalition of civil rights groups announced the next steps in their effort to dismantle the state’s anti-immigrant law, HB 87. Significant parts of the law have been blocked by the courtsbut one provision remains that allows police officers to ask the federal government to verify the immigration status of individuals who are lawfully detained on state-law grounds. It does not allow for stops, arrests or even extending detention just for immigration verification. Today’s order holds that challenges to that provision’s implementation must be brought in other suits, rather than the original case that the coalition filed before HB 87’s effective date in 2011.
The patrol car in Acworth was a bit of a trailblazer in 2010. That's when the department mounted three stationary cameras on the rear of the car -- designed to scan traffic, snap still images of license plates, then match the tag number with a national database.
"And it's checking for wanted people, stolen cars, stolen tags, things like that," said Capt. Mark Cheatham.
They're called "license plate recognition" systems or LPRs, and they're increasingly becoming fixtures on police vehicles across the country. Acworth police say they have retained in a database every image taken by their LPR system, including the time and location of each image.
That includes the vast majority of images that have never produced a police investigation.
"All the information is kept in house," said Cheatham. "And should there be a need to look and see if we've ever had contact with a specific vehicle, then we can research that." Cheatham says the police images are subject to release under the state Open Records Act.
And that raises questions among critics
"With this technology, it constitutes a significant invasion of our privacy," said Chad Brock, staff attorney for the ACLU of Georgia. "Law enforcement can see what types of ... political events we're attending, what churches we are attending. That creates a whole host of constitutional concerns."
Critics say say the state should put limits on how long police can retain surveillance images that aren't part of active law enforcement investigations. "We do not believe it's acceptable to retain information indefinitely, particularly when you have collected data on innocent individuals," Brock said.
Acworth police counter they are merely gathering images on public streets that anybody can gather -- with camera equipment that's available commercially.
The ACLU has released the most comprehensive report to date on law enforcement’s use of license plate readers, one of the fastest-proliferating technologies in the government’s surveillance arsenal. Learn about how your movements on the road are being tracked and recorded: www.aclu.org/plates