Tagged: civil liberties


FAN 117.3 (First Amendment News) University of Cape Town Disinvites Flemming Rose — Nadine Strossen Dissents

In the classic expression of freedom of speech and assembly, UCT’s policy is that our members will enjoy freedom to explore ideas, to express these and to assemble peacefully. The annual TB Davie Memorial Lecture on academic freedom was established by UCT students to commemorate the work of Thomas Benjamin Davie, vice-chancellor of the university from 1948 to 1955 and a defender of the principles of academic freedom. Organised by the Academic Freedom Committee, the lecture is delivered by distinguished speakers who are invited to speak on a theme related to academic and human freedom. 

* * * *

Note: Below is a heretofore unpublished letter from Professor Nadine Strossen. This coming Wednesday FAN will post another dissenting letter, this one by Floyd Abrams. Additionally, Vice-Chancellor Max Price, to whom the letter is primarily directed, is invited to reply should he be so inclined. (Links have been added for reference purposes.) 

July 22, 2016

Dear Vice-Chancellor Price, AFC Chair Professor Rousseau, and Professors Hendricks and McClachlan-Daniels:

UnknownAs someone who was honored to deliver the TB Davie Memorial Lecture in 2011, I was inspired by the University of Cape Town’s proud history of defending academic freedom, and its ongoing commitment to doing so, including through this Lecture and the work of the Academic Freedom Committee. I also recall fondly Dr. [Max] Price’s cordial hospitality and  appreciated support for the AFC and the Davie Lecture.

I applaud the AFC’s March 2015 decision to invite Flemming Rose to deliver the 2016 Davie Lecture, and I am heartened by the AFC’s refusal to rescind that invitation despite apparently great pressure to do so from both within and beyond UCT. Having read Mr. Rose’s enlightening book, The Tyranny of Silence, as well as many other publications by and interviews of him, I consider him one of the most principled, courageous exemplars of intellectual freedom and freedom of conscience, including freedom for religious and other beliefs. I was therefore deeply honored to present to him the biennial Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty, awarded by the Cato Institute, in New York City on May 25, 2016. For your information,  I append below this letter the text of the remarks that I delivered on that occasion.

maxresdefaultOf course, I would neutrally defend Mr. Rose’s right to speak at UCT  — and the UCT community’s right to hear his ideas – even if I strongly objected to his ideas. But he is especially deserving of a forum such as the Davie Lecture because his ideas have been so widely caricatured and misunderstood, and because these ideas are urgently important precisely due to the sensitive nature of the issues they address.

 For the foregoing reasons, I was deeply disheartened to learn recently that UCT had overridden the AFC and breached the commitment to host Mr. Rose to deliver the 2016 Davie Lecture. I was particularly disheartened by the reasons set out for that action in Dr. Price’s recently released letter, dated July 12, 2016.

These are the very same reasons that regularly have been cited to suppress the expression of any view that is politically unpopular at the particular time and place. In the U.S., for example, these were the reasons that too many universities cited for barring civil rights advocates from speaking during the twentieth-century Civil Rights Movement. Likewise, they are the same reasons why too many U.S. universities more recently barred “Black Power” activists from speaking. In a nutshell, the arguments both then and now are that the suppressed ideas could well offend other people, threatening their most cherished personal beliefs and community values, and potentially leading to violent reactions by those who are thus offended.

Professor Nadine Strossen

Professor Nadine Strossen

I have read the persuasive responses that have been issued to Dr. Price’s letter by the 2015 Davie Lecturer, Kenan Malik, and by the Index on Censorship, as well as by the AFC and Flemming Rose himself. I will not repeat the powerful arguments they made.  Rather, I will confine myself to making several additional points.

First, why does UCT succumb to the victim-blaming approach in this context that it would surely eschew in other contexts? To say that Flemming Rose should not advance ideas that others might find provocative and respond to with violence, seems to me the same as arguing that women should not wear certain clothing that others might find provocative and respond to with violence.

Second, Dr. Price’s letter references the limits upon free speech that the South African Constitution sets out, which are also generally accepted in other legal systems.  Yet the letter doesn’t expressly contend – nor could it credibly do so – that anything Flemming Rose has said, or is likely to say, would transgress any of those limits.  Indeed, apparently acknowledging as much, Dr. Price’s letter makes only the tentative, qualified observation that “Mr. Rose is regarded by many around the world as..someone whose statements.possibly amount to hate speech.”

As any survey of the media will reveal, if universities declined to host any speakers whom some people consider to have made statements that “possibly amount to hate speech,” then they would have to ban from campus just about everyone who is addressing any important, contentious, sensitive issue. For example,  in the U.S., many critics recently have denounced “Black Lives Matter” protestors as engaging in hate speech, even blaming such speech for allegedly instigating murders of police officers.

Dr. Max Price

Dr. Max Price

Flemming Rose’s speech clearly is not “advocacy of hatred . . . that constitutes incitement to cause harm,”  which the South African Constitution excludes from free speech protection (as quoted in Dr. Price’s letter). First, there is no basis for concluding that Mr. Rose would say anything that could fairly be considered “advocacy of hatred that is based on.religion.” Moreover, even if someone did engage in such “advocacy,” it would still be protected speech, unless it also “constitutes incitement to cause harm.” To the best of my knowledge,  not even Flemming Rose’s most unfair, harshest critics have charged him with “incitement” – a legal term of art that means intentionally spurring on listeners who are supportive of his views to commit harm against third parties, in a context where his sympathizers are actually likely to do so imminently. And if any such charge has been leveled, it would be patently unjustified.

If South Africa withheld free speech protection for non-inciting statements that merely criticize certain religious beliefs, or actions that are based on certain religious beliefs, then it could not protect many views that have been widely aired around the world:  for example,  criticism of’ discriminatory views and actions concerning LGBTQ individuals that are held by many Christian and other denominations and their adherents.

Third, Dr. Price’s invocation of “the rise in extremist terrorist groups” as somehow allegedly justifying suppression of Flemming Rose’s speech is also part of a general pattern that has been used to suppress a wide range of freedom, all over the world, not only in the recent past, but also historically. Ironically, this was precisely the topic of my 2011 Davie Lecture:  the unjustified violations of academic freedom in the name of fighting “the War on Terror.”

Given that this “War” is likely to remain “The New Normal” worldwide, it will remain an all-too-convenient, but unjustified, rationale for suppressing academic and other freedom.  This danger was recognized by none other than the namesake of the TB Davie Memorial Lecture himself. Let me quote a passage from my Davie Lecture, which quoted Dr. Davie’s pertinent observations.

“In his 1948 Inaugural Address, upon being installed as UCT’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Davie noted that `[r]ecent history has…shown …how easily and almost imperceptibly Universities can be deprived of their freedom.’  In words that are chillingly apt today  [almost seven] decades later, he warned: `Controls and restrictions [that are] imposed and accepted under conditions of war are only too meekly submitted to, even when the conditions necessitating their imposition have disappeared.'”

Fourth, I would like to add to the critiques that have already been made of Dr. Price’s argument that proceeding with Flemming Rose’s lecture “might retard rather than advance academic freedom.”  This reminds me of the much-maligned statement by a U.S. military official during the Vietnam War, that “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

It is also the same argument that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected in the landmark 1997 case of Reno v. ACLU, in which the Court for the first time upheld freedom of speech for the then-new medium of online expression. The U.S. government had argued that individuals might avoid an uncensored Internet “because of the risk of exposing themselves or their children to harmful material,” and therefore that censorship could have a net positive impact on free speech. The Court resoundingly repudiated this Through-the-Looking-Glass argument for the same reason that it is unpersuasive in the current context:

“We find this argument singularly unpersuasive…[I]n the absence of evidence to the contrary, we presume that governmental regulation of the content of speech is more likely to interfere with the free exchange of ideas than to encourage it. The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship.”

Fifth and finally, I am troubled by the ongoing threat to academic freedom that Dr. Price’s letter signals. On the one hand, he  asserts that UCT “hope[s] never again to have to interfere with an invitation to deliver a lecture on academic freedom.” On the other hand, though, he later endorses  “a considered version of academic freedom that is avowedly sensitive to the concurrent rights to dignity and freedom from harm.” In other words, it is only his version – or UCT’s “official” version – of academic freedom that will be honored, not that of the AFC, or the viewpoint-neutral version that would be consistent with the South African Constitution and UCT’s own proud traditions, as exemplified by TB Davie.

In light of the positive experience that I was so honored to enjoy as a prior Davie Lecturer -the same positive experience that Kenan Malik described in his response to Dr. Price’s letter – and in the constant hope that “more speech” will prevail over censorship, I respectfully urge reconsideration of the decision not only to “disinvite” Flemming Rose from giving the Lecture, but also apparently to exclude him from speaking at UCT altogether, even as part of a debate or panel presentation. I don’t think that bringing any speaker to campus could reasonably be viewed as anointing that speaker “as the chosen champion of the University of Cape Town,” as Dr. Price says. Certainly, when I had the privilege of delivering the Davie Lecture, I saw myself as the champion only of my own views on academic freedom; I did not see myself as even a spokesperson for UCT, let alone its “champion.” By continuing to create fora for discussion and debate by and with speakers expressing a range of views – including such an important thinker, writer, and activist as Flemming Rose — UCT itself would continue as “the chosen champion” of academic freedom.

 Very truly yours,

 Nadine Strossen

John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law,  New York Law School

Immediate Past President, American Civil Liberties Union (1991-2008)

APPENDIX   Read More


FAN 110 (First Amendment News) Steve Shapiro to Step Down as ACLU’s Legal Director

Civil liberties without Steve Shapiro is like the Rolling Stones without Jagger. — Kathleen Sullivan

Steve Shapiro

          Steven Shapiro

He is a giant in his world, the world of civil liberties. For some two decades he has been the man at the helm of defending freedom on various fronts ranging from free speech to NSA surveillance and more, much more. His journey began 40 years ago as a staff counsel to the New York Civil Liberties Union.

He is Steven R. Shapiro.

Sometime this fall Shapiro will step down as the Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. He has long been the one ultimately responsible for the ACLU’s entire legal program. Equally significant, Shapiro has been most closely involved with the ACLU’s Supreme Court docket. Ever since 1987, he helped to shape, edit, and occasionally write every ACLU brief to the Supreme Court.

  • Law Clerk (1975-1976 ) Judge J. Edward Lumbard, Court of Appeals, Second Circuit
  • J.D. (1975), Harvard Law School, magna cum laude.
  • B.A. (1972), Columbia College

Since 1995 Shapiro has served as an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, where he has taught “Civil Liberties & the Response to Terrorism,” and “Free Speech and the Internet.”

 Shapiro is a member of the Board of Directors of Human Rights First and the Policy Committee of Human Rights Watch, as well as the Advisory Committees of the U.S. Program and Asia Program of Human Rights Watch.

Steven Shapiro, “The Roberts Court and the Future of Civil Liberties,” Houston Law Center, April 20, 2012

Natalie Singer, “Freedom Fighter, A conversation with Steven R. Shapiro ’75

SCOTUSblog on Camera: Steven R. Shapiro (complete six-part series here)

The Measure of the Man: What Others Say

I invited a few of those who know Steve Shapiro and are familiar with his work to offer a few comments. Before proceeding to their full comments, I selected a set of words drawn from them that capture the measure of the man: Here are those seven words:








Nadine Strossen: “Steve Shapiro has been a supremely thoughtful, lucid, persuasive advocate of First Amendment rights and other civil liberties, both orally and in writing. Whether he is serving as Counsel of Record on a Supreme Court brief or giving a sound-bite for the national media, he always presents even the most complex, controversial positions clearly, colorfully, and compellingly.”

EVAN E. PARKER/ THE TIMES Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaks Thursday at Valparaiso University's School of Law about the legal aspects of the United States Patriot Act.

   [credit: Evan E. Parker/ The Times]

Robert Corn-Revere: “Through his long career in defending civil liberties, and First Amendment rights in particular, Steve Shapiro demonstrated that protecting individual rights often requires championing the right to express ideas you abhor, but that doing so is necessary to protect basic freedoms. For those of us who had the privilege of working with him, his principled advocacy will be greatly missed.”

Burt Neuborne: “Steve Shapiro set the standard for all once and future ACLU Legal Directors. I know because I didn’t reach his standard. Steve has a precise and uncannily quick analytic mind that breaks complex fact patterns down into controllable issues, together with a keen strategic sense that accurately separates a good academic argument from an argument having a chance in the real world. Couple Steve’s extraordinary legal ability with his careful approach to administration, unflappable good humor, patience, and deeply principled commitment to the ACLU, and you have the key to his enormous success. He leaves office with the respect and affection of hundreds of lawyers whose work he aided, and with the knowledge that he performed one of the nation’s most important legal tasks with brilliance and humanity.”

Erwin Chemerinsky: “Steve Shapiro has done a truly spectacular job as Legal Director of the ACLU. The ACLU legal staff has grown tremendously and likewise benefitted greatly under his leadership and has made a huge difference in so many areas of law. He has been especially effective in directing the ACLU’s presence in the Supreme Court.”

Kathleen Sullivan: “Over his remarkable tenure Steve’s energy, intellect, and suppleness enabled the ACLU to navigate profound changes in the landscape of security, privacy, and freedom. It has always been a joy to work with him.”

Paul M. Smith: “It has been my privilege and pleasure to work with Steve Shapiro on a large number of projects over the years. For a quarter century, he has been on the job at the ACLU displaying a breadth of knowledge and a depth of wisdom that has been extraordinary.”

Arthur Spitzer: “At a recent ACLU Nationwide Staff Conference where Steve Shapiro’s forthcoming retirement was announced, the event planners handed out cardboard fans that said, ‘We’re all fans of Steve.’ The humor may not have been brilliantly original, but I think no one disagreed with the sentiment. Steve is a terrific lawyer, often seeing the deep problems in a case before anyone else and then seeing the way around them. But I think his even greater value to the ACLU has been his ability to be an honest broker among all the competing viewpoints within the ACLU. As far as I’ve been able to perceive (although from afar, at the local affiliate in DC), everyone feels that Steve understands and appreciates his or her concerns, weighs them fairly, and takes them into account, even if not ultimately agreeing. That will be a hard act to follow.”

UnknownOne Measure of His Work: Free Expression Cases

Below is a list of all the free speech cases (not all First Amendment cases) in the Supreme Court where the ACLU filed or signed onto a brief in the last ten terms. The direct cases are marked by an asterisk; all the others are amicus briefs.

2014 Term:

2013 Term:

2012 Term:

2011 Term:

2010 Term:

2009 Term:

2008 Term:

2006 Term:

2005 Term:


Court Denies Review in Sign Case Read More


FAN 97 (First Amendment News) Trend Continues: ACLU’s 2016 Workplan Omits Mention of Protecting First Amendment Free-Expression Rights — No Longer a Fundraising Concern?

The ACLU’s timidity in protecting speech looks more and more like complicity in censoring it. 

                                 — Wendy Kaminer (Feb. 8, 2016)

It is that time of year again when those of us who have supported and continue to support the American Civil Liberties Union get out our checkbooks. Why? Because this is the time when we receive an annual fundraising letter from the group’s Executive Director. The letter is accompanied by an annual National ACLU Workplan. The latter “lays out [the ACLU’s] plans for the year ahead [and] always addresses the most critical civil liberties challenges facing our country” (emphasis added).

So begins a January 29, 2016 fundraising letter for Anthony D. Romero. Surprisingly, protecting free-speech freedoms is not listed as one of this year’s “critical civil liberties” issues. Neither of the documents contains any mention of the First Amendment.

IMG_3716 copy

The 2016 letter and Workplan cover a “broad spectrum” of “wide-ranging assaults on liberty.” In that regard, five areas of government wrong doing are identified where “fundamental freedoms are on the line.” Free speech is not flagged as one of those endangered “fundamental freedoms.”

IMG_3717 copy

Workplans, Priorities & Fundraising

Last year, when a similar omission in the ACLU’s 2015 Workplan (see FAN 49) was pointed out, Mr. Romero replied (see FAN 50) by noting the many areas in which both the national ACLU and its state affiliates continue to defend a variety of free-speech rights. Hence, the ACLU had not abandoned this field (see two news items below). Still, insofar as the workplans are any indication of the group’s priorities, protecting free speech does not appear to be one of them, at least not for fundraising purposes.

 Contrast Ohio 2016 Workplan (listing “protecting the right to dissent” as a top priority — “The ACLU of Ohio has a longstanding history of being the foremost guardian of the freedom of speech and assembly. Our work has never been more important as we are now preparing for the Republican National Convention.”)

Some Dissension in the ACLU ranks

Wendy Kaminer

Wendy Kaminer

Wendy Kaminer is an ardent free-speech advocate; she is currently a member of the advisory board of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Ms. Kaminer Kaminer was a member of the board of the ACLU of Massachusetts from the early 1990s until June 2009. She was also a national board member of the ACLU from 1999 until her term expired in June 2006. As to the omission of any reference to protecting First Amendment free-speech freedoms in the 2016 Workplan, she stated:

I’m not at all surprised that the ACLU’s 2016 work plan doesn’t include an explicit commitment to protecting freedom of speech. At the national level, ACLU has been exercising its right to remain silent on key free speech issues for years, in apparent deference to progressive support for restricting  speech deemed racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise exclusionary. Still, while it’s unsurprising, the ACLU’s withdrawal from free speech battles that could eventually lead the U.S. to adopt a Western European approach to regulating “hate speech” is indeed alarming. As threats to free speech intensify — on campus (thanks partly to arguably unconstitutional federal mandates) and in the remarkable tendency of some liberals to blame the victims of violence for giving offense to their murderers (remember Charlie Hebdo) — the ACLU’s timidity in protecting speech looks more and more like complicity in censoring it. 

Harvey Silverglate

Harvey Silverglate

Here is how Harvey A. Silverglate, co-founder of FIRE and a former member of the Board President of the ACLU of Massachusetts, replied:

Sadly, it comes as no surprise that the national ACLU Board and Staff are nowhere to be seen in the increasingly difficult battle to protect First Amendment freedom of expression rights. This is especially so in areas where the ACLU, more and more, pursues a political or social agenda where the overriding importance of the goal transcends, in the eyes of ACLU’s leadership, the needed vitality of free speech principles neutrally and apolitically applied. Fortunately, some ACLU state affiliates still carry the free speech battle flag, but they are a diminishing army in a war that is getting more and more difficult, even though more and more important, to wage.  

Does the New ACLU Still Support the First Amendment Positions of the Old ACLU?  

Consider the following cases — would the national ACLU still defend the First Amendment claims it once defended in all of the cases listed below?

  1. Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) (KKK hate speech) (Norman Dorsen, Melvin L. Wulf, Eleanor Holmes Norton & Bernard A. Berkman)
  2. Buckley v. Valeo (1976) (campaign finance) (Joel M. Gora & Melvin Wulf)
  3. National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie (1977) (Nazi hate speech)  (Burt Joseph in 7th Cir.)
  4. R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992) (race hate speech) (Steven R. Shapiro, John A. Powell & Mark R. Anfinson)
  5. Lorillard Tobacco Company v. Reilly (2000) (tobacco advertising) (Steven R. Shapiro)
  6. Hill v. Colorado (2000) (abortion clinic protests) (Stephen R. Shapiro) {contrast ACLU amicus brief filed in McCullen v. Coakley (2014) (Steven R. Shapiro)}
  7. Citizens United v. FEC (2010) (campaign finance) (Steven R. Shapiro)

The 2014 & 2015 Terms: The ACLU & First Amendment Free-Expression Cases 

 In the 2015-2016 Term, thus far the ACLU has not filed a brief in either of the two First Amendment cases concurrently under review by the Supreme Court — Heffernan v. City of Patterson and Friedrichs, et al. v. California Teachers Association, et al.

In the 2014-2015 Term, the ACLU did not file a brief in Reed v. Gilbert, though it did file briefs supporting the First Amendment free-expression claims in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. and Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar

Open Invitation to Reply 

As in the past, Mr. Romero is invited to reply, both to the Workplan issue and to the question concerning the ACLU’s continued commitment to protecting First Amendment rights in the seven cases listed above. Better still, and to reiterate my request from last year, I welcome the chance to do a Q & A with Mr. Romero on the ACLU and the First Amendment.

A Hyperlinked History of the Controversy:  ACLU & the First Amendment 


What Citizens United Did & Did Not Do  Read More


Looking Back — Francis Biddle, Censorship & the “Biddle List”

War threatens all civil rights. Francis Biddle, December 15, 1941

I was reading Sam Walker’s Today in Civil Liberties History (a daily historical calendar — quite good!) when I came upon this entry for today, circa April 14, 1942:

Attorney General Biddle OKs Censoring Father Coughlin’s Social Justice Magazine

“In a letter to Postmaster General Frank Walker on this day, Attorney General Francis Biddle (1886-1968) proposed banning the magazine Social Justice from the mails. Social Justice was the publication of Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest in the Detroit area, who in the late 1930s became a public, ultra-conservative critic of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

Unknown“When the U.S. entered World War II, Coughlin became a critic of the war effort, in part because he was anti-Semitic. Coughlin’s criticisms were the reasons for Biddle’s censorship proposal. In the end, the Post Office did bar Social Justice from the mails. It was one of the relatively rare instances of suppression of dissent during World War II . . . .” (See Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 15, 1942 story here.)

Biddle, of course, was the one who had been a secretary to Justice Holmes (1911-1912), assistant to the U.S. Attorney (E-Dist., PA), chairman of the NLRB (1934-35), Third Circuit Judge (1939-1940), U.S. Solicitor General (1940), U.S. Attorney General (1941-45), and later a judge on the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (1945-1946) (Herbert Wechsler served as his main assistant), among other things. Biddle also wrote a biography of Holmes — Mr. Justice Holmes (1942), among other books.

Francis Biddle

Francis Biddle

One more biographical note: he was a half second cousin four times removed of James Madison.

As recounted in a Wikipedia entry, “[d]uring World War II Biddle used the Espionage Act of 1917 to attempt to shut down ‘vermin publications.’ This included Father Coughlin’s publication entitled Social Justice. Biddle has also been ‘credited’ with the creation of what became known later as the ‘Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations.’ In fact, this list was originally known as ‘The Biddle List.'”

“In the Biddle List, eleven front groups originating in the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) were singled out as being ‘subversive’ and under the control of the Soviet Union. Unlike the later, more infamous Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations, which contained both left and right-wing organizations, the Biddle List contained only left-wing organizations as well as civil rights organizations tied to the CPUSA.”

Biddle List (1941): 

Contrast Francis Biddle, Remarks at the Dedication of the Thomas Jefferson Room, Library of Congress, December 15, 1941, on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Here is an excerpt from those remarks:

War threatens all civil rights; and although we have fought wars before, and ourpersonal freedoms have survived, there have been periods of gross abuse, when hysteria and hate and fear ran high, and when minorities were unlawfully and cruelly abused. Every man who cares about freedom, about a government by law — ­and all freedom is based on fair administration of the law — must fight for it for the other man with whom he disagrees, for the right of the minority, for the chance for the underprivileged with the same passion of insistence as he claims for his own rights. If we care about democracy, we must care about it as a reality for others as well as for ourselves; yes, for aliens, for Germans, for Italians, for Japanese, for those who are vdth us as well as those who are against us: For the Bill of Rights protects not only American citizensbut all hunlan beings who live on our American soil, under our American flag. The rights of Anglo-Saxons, of Jews, of Catholics, of negroes, of Slavs, Indians — all are alike before the law. And this we must remember and sustain — ­ that is if we really love justice, and really hate the bayonet and the whip and the gun, and the whole Gestapo method as a way of handling human beings.

As far as I can tell, there has been no book-length biography of Francis Biddle, which strikes me as odd. Such a biography is long overdue and Biddle is certainly deserving of one.


Soft launch of historical website — Calendar of civil liberties

There is a new website: Today in Civil Liberties History, which has five or six events for each day. Each event includes learning materials: books, reports, web sites, Youtube videos, and more. It covers the full range of civil liberties issues: First Amendment, racial justice, reproductive rights, lesbian and gay rights, national security, and more.

The official public launch will be on Constitution Day, Wednesday September 17th, but you can view in now.

For more information about Today in Civil Liberties History, click here: http://samuelwalker.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Coming-This-Fall2.p

And congrats to Professor Sam Walker for what promises to be a welcome addition to our daily calendar experiences.

Meanwhile, here is what happened on this day in August:



Emmett Till, 14, Murdered in Mississippi


“I Have a Dream”: King Delivers Historic Speech at March on Washington


John Lewis Speech at March on Washington Censored


“Police Riot” at Democratic Party Convention


Reagan Administration Bars Visas to People with HIV


Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Dedicated



Cybersecurity Legislation and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board

Along with a lot of other privacy folks, I have a lot of concerns about the cybersecurity legislation moving through Congress.  I had an op-ed in The Hill yesterday going through some of the concerns, notably the problems with the over broad  “information sharing” provisions.

Writing the op-ed, though, prompted me to highlight one positive step that should happen in the course of the cybersecurity debate.  The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was designed in large part to address information sharing.  This past Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee had the hearing to consider the bipartisan slate of five nominees.

Here’s the point.  The debate on CISPA and other cybersecurity legislation has highlighted all the information sharing that is going on already and that may be going on in the near future.  The PCLOB is the institution designed to oversee problems with information sharing.  So let’s confirm the nominees and get the PCLOB up and running as soon as possible.

The quality of the nominees is very high.  David Medine, nominated to be Chair, helped develop the FTC’s privacy approach in the 1990’s and has worked on privacy compliance since, so he knows what should be done and what is doable.  Jim Dempsey has been at the Center of Democracy and Technology for over 15 years, and is a world-class expert on government, privacy, and civil liberties.  Pat Wald is the former Chief Judge of the DC Circuit.  Her remarkably distinguished career includes major experience on international human rights issues.  I don’t have experience with the other two nominees, but the hearing exposed no red flags for any of them.

The debates about cybersecurity legislation show the centrality of information sharing to how government will respond to cyber-threats.  So we should have the institution in place to make sure that the information sharing is done in a lawful and sensible way, to be effective and also to protect privacy and civil liberties.