ACLU-NJ Statement on Judge’s Decision to Dismiss NYPD Surveillance Lawsuit

February 21, 2014
Share this:

NEWARK – U.S. district Judge William Martini on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the NYPD surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey. The lawsuit, Hassan v. City of New York, was filed in 2012 by eight Muslim residents who alleged the NYPD’s surveillance programs were unconstitutional because they focused on religion, national origin and race.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the California-based civil rights organization Muslim Advocates represented the plaintiffs.

The following statement is from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

Udi Ofer

“The ACLU-NJ is highly disappointed in yesterday’s ruling by Judge Martini dismissing a challenge brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates against the New York City Police Department’s surveillance program targeting Muslims living in New Jersey. For years, the NYPD conducted secret intelligence gathering activities in New Jersey targeting Muslim community members based on their religious beliefs. The New Jersey public was kept in the dark during these investigations, which targeted New Jersey residents who engaged in no wrongdoing. The ACLU-NJ disagrees with Judge Martini’s decision and will support the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates as they appeal this decision.”

ACLU-NJ Statement on Pocket Veto of Drone Bill

January 21, 2014
Share this:

NEWARK – On Jan. 21, a bill that regulates the use of drones by law enforcement expired without Gov. Chris Christie’s signature. The bill was passed by the state Legislature and had bipartisan support.

The following statement is from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

Udi Ofer

We are disappointed that Governor Christie has chosen to let the clock run out on a bill that would have given New Jerseyans some of the strongest civil liberties protections in the nation against abusive drone surveillance. The bill, S2702/A4073, passed by widespread bipartisan majorities in both houses, has sat on the Governor’s desk for over a week, and today was pocket-vetoed by the governor.

Drones will likely be flying New Jersey’s skies by next year. When they arrive, we will need laws that protect both public safety and the privacy rights of New Jersey residents. This bill would have done just that.  Protections against government overreach should be a priority for all New Jersey officials. Yet Gov. Christie’s pocket veto puts New Jerseyans’ privacy in limbo as drones take to the skies. The ACLU-NJ will continue to work with allies and legislators in the new legislative session to ensure that the privacy of New Jersey residents is protected before drones arrive, not after.

Issue: Privacy

ACLU-NJ Applauds Passage of Bill Regulating Use of Drones

January 13, 2014
Share this:

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) applauds the passage of a bill that offers some of the strongest protections in the nation against drone surveillance.

This bill requires police to obtain a warrant before using a surveillance drone, except in certain extraordinary situations; requires law enforcement to discard information that is not relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation within 14 days; and prohibits the weaponization of drones in New Jersey.

The bill has been approved in the state Senate and Assembly.

The following statement is from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

Udi Ofer

The legislation passed today by the State Legislature puts in place in New Jersey some of the strongest civil liberties protections in the nation against abusive drone surveillance. It does so by placing strong restrictions on when and how law enforcement agencies can use this powerful technology. Drone technology is growing by leaps and bounds, yet there are no meaningful rules in place in New Jersey to regulate this technology. We urge Governor Christie to sign this legislation into law immediately and protect New Jerseyans’ privacy rights.

Under the bill passed by the legislature, law enforcement agencies will be required to obtain a warrant before they use a drone and to discard content collected by drones if unrelated to an ongoing criminal investigation. As with other laws that require warrants, there are narrow exceptions for extraordinary situations. This bill is a significant first step in the right direction in regulating police drone use. The ACLU-NJ will continue to monitor the implementation of this bill and will remain vigilant in protecting the civil liberties of all New Jerseyans and ensure that drone technology is not abused by law enforcement.

Issue: Privacy

ACLU-NJ Statements on NYPD Surveillance and Tuition

June 17, 2013
Share this:

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) is monitoring several pieces of legislation that are before the New Jersey Legislature today.

The following statements are from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, about those bills.

Udi Ofer

Reporting Requirements for Counter-Terrorism Investigations (Senate Bill No. 2311)

"For years, the NYPD conducted secret intelligence gathering activities in New Jersey targeted at Muslim community members who engaged in no wrongdoing. The New Jersey public was kept in the dark during these investigations, which targeted New Jersey residents based on their religious beliefs. Senate Bill No. 2311 will ensure that the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies will be unable to conduct their operations in our state without informing New Jersey law enforcement officials of their activities. While such a step is welcomed, it will not in-and-of-itself address the problem of NYPD operations in our state. At the very least, any bill that passes the state legislature should also include a requirement that the public be kept informed, in a manner that protects the integrity of legitimate law enforcement investigations, of any NYPD and other intelligence gathering operations in our state, particularly those operations that implicate First Amendment rights."

Tuition Equality Act (Assembly Bill No. 4225)

"The ACLU-NJ strongly supports the Tuition Equality Act. The time has come for New Jersey to end its unequal treatment of undocumented immigrants seeking to enroll in New Jersey’s colleges and universities. More than three decades ago, the United States Supreme Court, in Plyler v. Doe, held that undocumented students must be given equal access to a public school education. Yet in New Jersey today, undocumented students who graduate from our high schools and wish to attend our state colleges or universities are forced to pay much higher rates – in some cases more than twice as much – than their classmates for no other reason than their status as undocumented immigrants. This form of unequal access and unequal treatment must end. The New Jersey Legislature should ensure equal access to all students who call our state home, regardless of their immigration status, and pass A-4225."

ACLU-NJ Halts New State ID Program

May 7, 2012
Share this:

TRU-ID violates NJ law, privacy rights, and public trust

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) announced today that it filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in Mercer County on Friday and won a court order to restrict the implementation of the state’s new TRU-ID licensing program, which was scheduled to go into effect today. The lawsuit asserts that the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) violated New Jersey’s Administrative Procedure Act, which dictates that any new rule or regulation requires, at a minimum, public notice and the chance for citizen review.

"Implementing TRU-ID without any involvement from the public isn’t just undemocratic – it’s also in violation of New Jersey laws,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas, who argued the case on behalf of the ACLU-NJ. “The State of New Jersey has infringed upon the rights of every citizen in New Jersey by deciding to radically change our ID system by fiat instead of through the democratic process.”

Prior to taking the matter to court, the ACLU-NJ attempted to address its concerns with the MVC, sending a letter (362k PDF) outlining the civil liberties, safety and cost issues with TRU-ID, requesting a meeting prior to the implementation to discuss these issues, and making an open records request (100kb PDF) for more information (which received a skeletal response [2.1mb PDF]).

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Paul Innes issued an order that restricts the MVC from requiring citizens to obtain a TRU-ID, and held that the agency must allow applicants the option of obtaining a driver's license or state ID under the 6-Point license system that has been the law in New Jersey for almost a decade. The order also prohibits the MVC from making copies of Social Security cards, birth certificates, passports or other identification documents, as the copying of records is also not authorized under current regulations.

The ACLU-NJ and the MVC are scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 3 to present oral arguments about the matter. The judge's order holds that injunction will remain in place at least until that time.

The state released minimal information about TRU-ID just a few weeks before the planned implementation. It did not seek any input from the public, legislators or stakeholders. The MVC said the new program was necessary to comply with the federal Real ID Act, which seeks to create a national identification card and make it mandatory for anyone who wants to board a commercial airline or enter a federal building. But the federal act is unenforceable - at least 25 states have opted out of Real ID, with 15 of them passing legislation making it illegal for their state governments to participate. The states saying no to Real ID may soon grow to 26; a bill rejecting Real ID implementation currently sits on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s desk for him to sign into law.

“TRU-ID is a half-baked plan to implement the half-dead Real ID Act,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs, also the plaintiff in the lawsuit. Her current license expires June 30. "The state is trying to slip this under the radar without allowing the public the opportunity to see how much TRU-ID will cost in terms of our rights, our privacy and our wallets."

In addition to privacy concerns, the ACLU-NJ’s lawsuit also addresses the potential impact of TRU-ID on some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable communities with regard to civil rights and personal safety. The regulation’s requirement that all documents, including birth certificates, be in English imposes a burden on anyone born in a non-English speaking country. Likewise, the homeless will have difficulty proving their citizenship. In addition, it is uncertain whether there are exceptions for victims of domestic violence, who are currently allowed to use an alternate address for all state and local government purposes, rather than their actual home addresses, which could jeopardize their safety.

Although the MVC has stated it is not yet ready to start scanning documents, TRU-ID and Real ID systems require citizens to turn over copies of their personal documents to the government, which will be maintained indefinitely in a government database. Because no regulations have been released publicly, New Jerseyans have no assurance that the information maintained on the license itself or in the databases of the state government will have protection from identity thieves or other threats.

At the hearing on Friday, Judge Innes noted that the state does not have the authority to require driver's license applicants to turn over documents with their full Social Security numbers, but that that the state was now attempting to do just that under the TRU-ID system. The ACLU-NJ, the judge ruled, "has a very good likelihood of success" on the merits of its claims (1.7mb PDF).

Although the state has not shared the costs of TRU-ID with the public, the MVC said in a 2006 report that implementation of Real ID “imposes severe logistical and financial requirements” upon New Jersey. Moreover, the costs to implement Real ID may not even be necessary. In 2008, after 25 states outright refused to comply with Real ID, the Department of Homeland Security released regulations acknowledging that it could not enforce Real ID compliance.

“When the MVC rolled out its 6-Point ID verification in 2003, it bragged that the IDs met the standards of the Department of Homeland Security” said Jacobs. “We shouldn’t waste New Jersey tax dollars on a moribund program that Americans on all sides have rejected.” The case, captioned ACLU-NJ v. Martinez, is being heard in Mercer County Superior Court.

You can read the complaint (4.5mb PDF), which provides more comprehensive details about the pitfalls of TRU-ID. You can read more about the Real ID Act at the ACLU’s national site, www.realnightmare.org.

Multimedia

Related Content

Issue: Privacy

Gov. Christie Earns Mixed Marks on Civil Liberties During His First Two Years

January 24, 2012
Share this:

ACLU-NJ examines Christie’s record on respecting rights

education

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) released a midterm report card for Gov. Chris Christie today (182k PDF), issuing mostly low marks for his administration’s handling of critical civil liberties issues such as reproductive freedom and free speech.

The report card examines Christie’s record on an array of civil liberties issues during his first two years in office. The ACLU-NJ issued a similar report card for Newark Mayor Cory Booker (229k PDF) in 2009 during his first term in office.

“Christie has two years to turn a mediocre civil liberties record into a testament to individual rights,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “The people of New Jersey expect a leader who will stand up for their freedoms, not one who will let them know that despite his unfair policies, his heart is in the right place. It’s time for Gov. Christie’s good intentions to turn into policies that strengthen our rights and improve our lives.”

The ACLU-NJ issued the following grades:

  • B in Freedom of Religion. Gov. Christie made headlines several times in his first term for defending the religious freedom of Muslims and warning against extremists trying to promote discrimination against Islam.

  • F in Freedom of Speech. When provided the opportunity to speak up for our nation’s most fundamental value, the Governor stood idly by, letting the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs trample the rights of Occupy Trenton, and going so far as to endorse the termination of a NJ Transit employee fired for exercising his right to free expression.

  • B- in LGBT Rights. Although the Governor has spoken out against bullying and supported some interests of the LGBT community, he has turned his back on marriage equality for same-sex couples.

  • D in Open Government. Although the Governor signed a bill that lowers the cost of copies in New Jersey, his administration has put itself on the wrong side of open government disputes numerous times, allowing agencies to hide public documents and forcing citizens to go to court to get them.

  • C in Police Practices. Improvements made by the Office of Attorney General (OAG) to its statewide police Internal Affairs policies were a step forward, but the OAG has failed to address other important issues, such as developing a statewide policy on the use of confidential informants.

  • C in Privacy Rights. The governor conditionally vetoed a bill that sought to open adoption records, taking into account the privacy rights of birth parents. At the same time, he signed into a law a bill that allows police to collect DNA of people once they have been arrested in violation of privacy and due process rights.

  • F in Reproductive Rights. Not only did the governor cut $7.5 million from the budget for family planning centers, but he also withdrew an application for a federal program that would have covered family planning expenses for some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable women and children.

  • D in Separation of Powers. The Governor refused to reappoint New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John J. Wallace, Jr., calling into question the tradition of evaluating judges based on merits, and personally attacked a Superior Court judge because he disagreed with the outcome of her ruling. Gov. Christie’s actions threaten to undermine the judiciary’s independence and credibility.

ACLU-NJ Celebrates 50 Years on the Front Lines of Freedom

June 16, 2010
Share this:

Newark, N.J. - For five decades, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has been a gale force in the most critical social debates of our time and a vigilant guardian of civil rights for all.

In June, the ACLU-NJ will mark the 50th anniversary of its founding and celebrate its standing as one of the largest and most active affiliates in the nation. Created to counter the growing pressures on civil liberties in the state, the affiliate's first official meeting took place on the night of June 16, 1960. Since its start, the affiliate, which has continued to keep its headquarters in Newark, has seen its membership multiply nearly 10-fold, from 1,600 people to more than 15,000.

"We believe that the liberties in the Bill of Rights belong to every American, to all the people in New Jersey regardless of their political beliefs, race, religion or national origin," ACLU-NJ founder and longtime President Emil Oxfeld said in the original press release announcing the formation of the state's affiliate. "We believe these freedoms must be exercised if democracy in our state is to grow and thrive."

Oxfeld went on to list issues that desperately needed attention at the time - due process, racial discrimination, the separation of church and state, and freedom from censorship - all principles the ACLU still defends daily.

"While some of the issues raised in our cases over the years seem archaic by today's standards, many haven't changed at all," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs, who has led the affiliate since 1999, including during the biggest membership spike in its history. "The law has advanced remarkably in areas like women's rights, lesbian and gay rights, and safeguarding personal privacy, but with issues like free speech, police practices and religious freedom, no fight ever stays won."

"The ACLU of New Jersey has been a leader in the crucial civil liberties battles of our time," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the national ACLU. "While each new era brings a wave of assaults on freedom, the ACLU of New Jersey responds swiftly and decisively, protecting the rights of all Garden State residents. It has proven its value on the American political landscape."

Since opening its doors and springing into action - its first official undertaking was commending the Clifton Library's stance against banning books like Lady Chatterley's Lover - the ACLU-NJ has doggedly worked for justice and equality in New Jersey.

In its first decade the ACLU-NJ took strong action following the 1967 Newark Rebellion. Staffers took to the streets in the aftermath, painstakingly cataloguing police abuses to the ACLU-NJ would refer to in its demands for reform. The New Jersey affiliate also emerged even more progressive than the national ACLU, becoming one of the first state affiliates to take a stand against the Vietnam War.

Since those early years, the ACLU-NJ has grown into one of the country's largest and most active state affiliates, with a record of milestones that has earned it a role on the national stage. Among its accomplishments, the ACLU-NJ:

  • Defended the rights of women in schools, from a tennis star (represented by Ruth Bader Ginsburg) who won the right to play on the high school boys' tennis team, to the Princeton student who turned its Ivy League all-male eating clubs co-ed.
  • Blocked a bill requiring a "one-minute period of silence" for prayer in public schools in 1983.
  • Defended 12 motorists who had been racially profiled on the New Jersey Turnpike in the late 1990s.
  • Propelled New Jersey to become the first state in the nation to grant equal standing to gay and lesbian couples jointly adopting in 1997.
  • Successfully challenged the state's ban on late-term abortion in 1998 and a law requiring parents to sign off on a minor's abortion in 2000.
  • Challenged secret detentions and organized locally, fending off attempts to chip away at individual rights following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
  • Defeated local laws written to exclude immigrants from housing, won humane working conditions for immigrants, and helped enforce the rights of young immigrants to attend public school.
  • Established stronger First Amendment protections in schools and malls, as well as developments run by homeowners associations.

The ACLU-NJ is celebrating the clients, attorneys, leaders and volunteers - many involved in the cases highlighted above - who have built its legacy, from its founders to its future. The stories of these 50 Faces of Liberty can be found at the ACLU-NJ website, http://www.aclu-nj.org

"Society has changed dramatically since our founding, but we've never lost the fire that fuels the ACLU's advocacy," Jacobs added. "We can't always predict what challenges lie ahead for liberty in a changing world, but whatever they are, the ACLU stands ready to defend the fundamental rights of ordinary Americans."

The year-long commemoration will culminate November 4 at the NJ Freedom Fest: A night of laughter and liberties, hosted by comedian Jimmy Tingle and featuring faces from the ACLU past and present, to be held at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick.

5 Former AGs Challenge Jails' Blanket Strip Searches

January 18, 2010
Share this:

NEWARK, NJ - The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) today filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of five former New Jersey Attorneys General opposing the blanket strip search policies of the Burlington County Jail and Essex County Correctional Facility. The jails' policies currently require strip searches for people charged with but not convicted of minor offenses, and even when there is no reasonable suspicion that an arrestee possesses contraband.

"Strip searching every detainee is unconstitutional, it contributes little to jail security and it creates an intolerable risk of subjecting detainees to needless humiliation," said Ed Barocas, Legal Director for the ACLU-NJ. "There is no legitimate reason for these types of policies to exist."

The amicus brief , filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on behalf of former New Jersey Attorneys General Robert J. Del Tufo, Deborah T. Poritz, John J. Farmer Jr., Peter C. Harvey and Zulima V. Farber, defends the privacy and Fourth Amendment rights of Albert Florence.

Florence filed a lawsuit in 2005 charging officials at the two jails with unconstitutionally subjecting him to two strip searches despite a lack of reasonable suspicion. The searches followed his erroneous arrest during a 2005 traffic stop for a fine he had already paid. He was ordered during the searches to squat naked and, while standing in front of prison guards, to lift his genitals.

"Being forced to strip naked is humiliating, and people charged with minor crimes shouldn't be strip searched unless there's a reason to think they're hiding something," said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project.

Consistent with legal precedent, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez ruled in February 2009 that the strip search of Florence violated the Constitution. However, officials representing both Burlington and Essex Counties appealed the decision, placing the case before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

The former Attorneys General's brief notes that Judge Rodriguez's decision prevents strip searches only for non-indictable offenses that do not involve contraband and when there is no reason to suspect contraband. Additionally, his decision does not preclude strip searches following visitation.

Previous federal rulings have also banned strip searches of low-level arrestees unless jail officials can prove reasonable suspicion that the inmate may have drugs, guns or other illegal contraband. The standard of reasonable suspicion still allows prison officials to use broad discretion in determining if a strip search is necessary.

A copy of the amicus brief is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/florence-v-board-chosen-freeholders-county-burlington-et-al-amicus-brief

Additional information about ACLU-NJ is available online at: http://www.aclu-nj.org

Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/prison

NJ's Federal Law Enforcement Used GPS To Track People's Cell Phones

April 23, 2009
Share this:

Justice Department Documents Reveal Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie Approved Tracking Whereabouts With No Warrant

NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union announced today its discovery that former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie gave approval to track people's precise whereabouts through their cell phones without a warrant.

"This is just the newest example of our privacy rights careening over the edge with federal officials drunk at the wheel," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "Big Brother is tucked away in our cell phones, and the man behind the curtain is Chris Christie."

Justice Department documents made public today through a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation show that the government is actively taking advantage of GPS or other similarly precise technology to monitor people's coming and goings, specifically in New Jersey as well as Florida, and that it does not always obtain a search warrant beforehand.

"Tracking the location of people's cell phones reveals intimate details of their daily routines and is highly invasive of their privacy," said Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the ACLU. "The government is violating the Constitution when it fails to get a search warrant before tracking people this way."

Although low-level courts have authorized the tracking, New Jersey and Florida are the only two known states in which federal prosecutors are obtaining court orders for GPS or similarly precise tracking information merely by showing that the tracking information is "relevant and material" to a criminal investigation - a substantially lower burden than the "probable cause" standard required by the Constitution.

The Justice Department itself has stated that federal prosecutors should seek probable cause warrants to obtain precise location data in private areas. Considering the fact that people do not even have an opportunity in court to challenge the tracking, since they are not informed of the proceedings, it's essential that the government have a sufficient legal basis before initiating this surveillance.

The ACLU wishes to participate in such proceedings as amicus curiae in the interest of defending the rights of those potentially subject to tracking.

The ACLU and EFF sued the Justice Department in July 2008 for records related to the government's use of cell phones as tracking devices. Some documents have been turned over but the lawsuit continues over additional information about the government's practices.

Attorneys on the case are Crump of the ACLU, David Sobel of EFF and Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.

ACLU-NJ Seeks to Join Free Speech Lawsuit Against Newark

January 29, 2008
Share this:

NEWARK, NJ -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) today moved to join a federal lawsuit filed against the City of Newark for disciplining a police officer who anonymously posted a message on a website that was critical of the Newark Police Department. The lawsuit also challenges the action of Newark police in improperly obtaining a subpoena to require an Internet Service Provider to turn over the identity of the then-anonymous web poster.

"Public employees have the right to speak openly about matters of public concern, and the right to do so anonymously on the web, if they choose" said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. "In this case, the Newark Police Department violated both of those rights."

In February of 2006, the plaintiff in the case, Officer Louis Wohltman, anonymously posted messages about the integrity and competence of the Newark police department on http://www.newarkspeaks.com a website on which people engage in dialogue about local issues.

Due to the fact that Newark Police Department supervisors apparently disliked the content of the anonymous web messages they went to great -- and ultimately illegal -- lengths to uncover the identity of the web poster. Despite the fact that what Wohltman wrote did not amount to an illegal threat, the police department improperly used the criminal grand jury subpoena process to obtain Wohltman's identity. Then, the department suspended Wohltman for nine months without pay for making the critical statements.

This is the second time in as many weeks that the ACLU-NJ has become involved in a case in which the Newark Police Department allegedly tried to suppress citizens' First Amendment rights. Last week, the ACLU-NJ, along with the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice, filed a lawsuit (Lima v. Newark Police Department) against the Newark Police Department on behalf of newspaper editor Roberto Lima, whom police arrested and held in custody until he relinquished photos his staff took of a dead body found in a Newark alleyway.

The case involving Officer Louis Wohltman is captioned Wohltman v. The City of Newark, et al., and was filed in the United States District Court in Newark. The ACLU-NJ's filing today is to request permission to participate in the case as amicus curiae ("friend-of-the-court") and to provide the court with the legal context in which to analyze the facts of the case.

Louis Wohltman is directly represented by Frank Corrado of Barry, Corrado, Grassi & Gibson, as well as by Rubin Sinins of Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinins.