ACLU-NJ Cheers Passage of Drone Privacy Bill in Assembly

May 14, 2015
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Legislation would require warrants and transparency for law enforcement’s use of drones in NJ

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today applauded the overwhelming passage of A1039, a bill that would offer some of the strongest protections in the nation against abusive drone surveillance by law enforcement.

The bill would require police to obtain a warrant before using surveillance drones except in certain extraordinary situations, and it would require law enforcement to dispose of information within two weeks unless it’s being used for an ongoing investigation. Additionally, the legislation prohibits using drones as weapons in the state of New Jersey, and it requires law enforcement agencies to publicly report on their use of drones.

“Drone technology is expanding rapidly and the law needs to keep pace. This legislation is a critical starting point,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “Drones have remarkable capacity to gather information about New Jerseyans’ everyday lives, as well as the dangerous potential to encroach on our privacy. This legislation would add common-sense protections for when and how law enforcement can use drones in our state.”

A1039 was introduced by Assemblyman Dan Benson at the start of the legislative session. Similar legislation regulating drones passed the Senate and Assembly nearly unanimously in January 2014, only to be pocket-vetoed by Governor Christie. The bill today passed nearly unanimously in the Assembly, with 66 votes for the legislation, three abstentions and one vote against.

Twelve other states — Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin — have passed drone privacy laws.

S2310, the bill’s companion in the Senate, was introduced by Senator Nicholas Sacco. The bill currently sits in the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee awaiting a hearing.

“The drones are coming. With no rules in place, law enforcement’s use of drones is a scary prospect,” Rosmarin added. “We urge the Senate to stand up for New Jerseyans’ rights and make sure that the drones that will soon fly through New Jersey skies do not become a privacy nightmare.”

The text of A1039 can be found here: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/A1500/1039_R1.PDF

ACLU-NJ Welcomes N.J. Supreme Court Upholding Rights of Mother Prescribed Methadone During Pregnancy

December 22, 2014
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NEWARK – The ACLU-NJ today praised a decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court that unanimously upheld the rights of a woman who took methadone during pregnancy to treat an addiction to opioids, affirming the arguments of the amicus brief the ACLU-NJ submitted in the case. The state’s highest court determined that the New Jersey Department of Youth and Family Services and the Appellate Division had erred by deeming the mother responsible for abuse and neglect of her child because she took a prescribed medication for the purposes of harm-reduction while under a doctor’s care.

This decision reversed an Appellate Division ruling that had considered any harm to a child, regardless of the broader facts surrounding the circumstances, as evidence of abuse or neglect. The court also remanded the case back to the lower court to assess whether there were any alternate reasons for the finding.

“This ruling underscores that the state should not be in the business of second-guessing medical decisions made by a woman and her doctor,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas. “Penalizing pregnant women for seeking health care is not only unconstitutional, but counterproductive.”

On the recommendation of her doctors, Y.N. took methadone during pregnancy to treat her addiction to the pain killer Percocet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, methadone maintenance treatment is “the most effective treatment for opiate addiction” and leads to “improved pregnancy outcomes,” which the decision itself referenced.  When Y.N.’s child was born, he required treatment for opioid withdrawal, as doctors had anticipated, but was otherwise healthy. The Appellate Division determined that the child’s withdrawal symptoms were sufficient for a finding of abuse and neglect.

According to the New Jersey Supreme Court the Appellate Division applied an excessively stringent and inflexible interpretation that did not factor in the mother’s decision-making in the best interest of herself and her pregnancy. The court’s decision also discussed the lower court ruling’s “perverse disincentive” for pregnant women to be forthcoming with their doctors, fearing that an appropriate course of treatment for addiction could ultimately result in a ruling of abuse or neglect.

“This ruling is incredibly important for recognizing the nuances involved in making complex personal medical decisions, especially during pregnancy,” said Ronald Chen of the Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic, who served as cooperating attorney in this case on behalf of the ACLU-NJ. “If, as a society, we truly care about healthy moms and healthy babies, we must ensure pregnant women have access to prenatal care, support, and treatment to overcome their addiction.”

The unanimous ruling was authored by New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Barry T. Albin.

“We hold that, absent exceptional circumstances, a finding of abuse or neglect cannot be sustained based solely on a newborn’s enduring methadone withdrawal following a mother’s timely participation in a bona fide treatment program prescribed by a licensed healthcare professional to whom she has made full disclosure,” the court's opinion said.

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Spooky Stuff at the ACLU-NJ

October 31, 2014
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This Halloween the staff at the ACLU of New Jersey share what spooks them when it comes to defending our civil liberties. The videos below will serve content from youtube.com. YouTube's privacy statment. ACLU-NJ's privacy statement.

When Drones Attack!

ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin is afraid of unregulated drones in New Jersey's skies (and conference rooms).

The Loss of Privacy

ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom is scared that the 4th Amendment will disappear (literally).

Freedom of Expression

ACLU-NJ Administrative Assistant Farah Rahaman is afraid of not being able to express herself.

Voting Rights

ACLU-NJ Transparency Law Fellow Iris Bromberg is frightened that voter suppression laws will take away her right to vote.

Kaci Hickox to be Released from Detention but Serious Constitutional Concerns Remain with Mandatory Quarantine Policy

October 27, 2014
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Upon news of the impending release of health care worker Kaci Hickox from mandatory quarantine in New Jersey, ACLU of New Jersey executive director Udi Ofer issues the following statement.

Udi Ofer

"Kaci Hickox will see freedom after being coercively detained for three days, but New Jersey’s overbroad policy of automatically detaining all healthcare workers returning from West Africa after helping Ebola patients continues. Ebola is a serious matter and the government’s response should be driven by science and facts, not by fear and politics.

'Medical workers have put their lives at risk treating Ebola patients. They should be rewarded with compassion and not treated like criminals. Mandatory quarantine of people exhibiting no Ebola symptoms and when not medically necessary is overbroad and raises serious constitutional concerns. Governor Christie should rescind the mandatory quarantine policy, which could affect potentially hundreds of returning healthcare workers.

'New Jersey’s policy not only raises constitutional problems, but also discourages first responders from helping sick patients who need their assistance."

ACLU of New Jersey Statement on Governor Christie's Mandatory Quarantine Order

October 27, 2014
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The following statement is from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

Udi Ofer

Ebola is a public health issue and the government’s response should be driven by science and facts and not by fear. We must treat our medical workers who put their lives at risk, and are the only ones who can contain this epidemic, with compassion and not like criminals. Coercive measures like mandatory quarantine of people exhibiting no symptoms of Ebola and when not medically necessary raise serious constitutional concerns about the state abusing its powers.

By forcibly detaining people we are also frightening the public and may deter genuinely sick people who fear quarantine from seeking the treatments they deserve, while also discouraging caregivers and first responders from helping sick patients who need their assistance.

This is a challenging time for New Jersey, but decisions must be made based on sound medicine, and not on fear. Governor Christie must provide more information to the public about how the state came to the conclusion that mandatory quarantine of our healthcare workers was medically necessary.

ACLU-NJ Demands NJ State Park Police Stop Placing Social Security Numbers on Parking Tickets

August 20, 2014
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ACLU-NJ criticizes NJSPP for violating individual’s privacy rights by obtaining and then disclosing Social Security Numbers on parking tickets issued at Liberty State Park

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) sent a demand letter (PDF) to Acting Director Terri Genardi of the New Jersey State Park Police demanding the agency stop using Social Security numbers (SSNs) as part of its process when ticketing vehicles. The ACLU-NJ was alerted of this practice after a Liberty State Park visitor, Tamara Laine, received a parking ticket bearing her Social Security number in writing.

The ACLU-NJ letter urges the NJSPP to purge all files that contain SSNs and to change their ticket forms, which clearly provide a blank for a nine-digit number. Certain ticket forms include the phrase “SOC SECURITY NUMBER” lightly on the nine-digit field. Additionally the ACLU-NJ asks for an investigation into why and how the SSNs were obtained as part of the ticketing process.

“The Park Police has jeopardized privacy rights by placing the most sensitive information a person can have – a Social Security number – in plain sight on car windshields,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas, who sent the letter. “Under the laws and constitutions of the United States and New Jersey, the government has no authority to unjustifiably collect and expose our private information. We hope the agency will explain how this breach happened, and we expect a promise that this kind of misconduct will end.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court gives SSNs the highest degree of protection. Government agencies can only obtain or disclose Social Security numbers if there is an overriding justification to do so. In its letter, the ACLU-NJ said it could find no justification for the NJSPP obtaining individuals’ SSNs. Further, the public display of SSNs on parking tickets opens up individuals to heightened risk of identity theft, as SSNs are unique identifiers tied closely to a person’s financial affairs.

According to reports, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has stated that SSNs are not normally put on parking tickets and that the placement on tickets would be a mistake and occurred in just a few instances. However, the ACLU-NJ has obtained numerous tickets issued by NJSPP in just over a two week period that indicate otherwise.

The ACLU-NJ has requested a response to its requests from the NJSPP by August 29, 2014.

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ACLU-NJ and civil rights groups seek to reinstate challenge to NYPD spying on Muslims in New Jersey

July 14, 2014
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Amicus brief argues that lower court decision erred in dismissing claims of religious and ethnic profiling by the NYPD

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) on behalf of itself and numerous civil rights advocacy organizations in the case of Hassan, et al., v. City of New York, which challenges the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) surveillance of Muslims, mosques, and Muslim-owned businesses in New Jersey. The brief, which was submitted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, explained that the lower court erred when it issued a decision in February dismissing the plaintiffs' claims.

The organizations on the brief included Latino Justice PRLDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Garden State Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association, and the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey.

"When a person presents evidence that a government agency has singled them out for harsher treatment because of their race, ethnicity or religion, the government bears a heavy burden of justifying its actions," stated Rutgers Law School-Newark's Acting Dean Ronald Chen, who is serving as the ACLU-NJ's cooperating counsel in the case. "The plaintiffs deserve to have their day in court to challenge being profiled by the NYPD."

For years, the New York City Police Department secretly conducted surveillance that targeted Muslims living in New Jersey, until a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press series uncovered the program. On February 21, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge William Martini dismissed the lawsuit, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates on behalf of eight Muslim residents of New Jersey, despite the serious constitutional concerns involved in targeting people for surveillance based solely on their religion.

"This appeal is significant, not only because it seeks to restore a challenge the NYPD's surveillance practices, but also because of what it could mean for future civil rights causes," said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. "Our federal courts must be open to hearing discrimination claims. As explained in the brief, when the government profiles an entire group of people based solely on a characteristic such as ethnicity or religion, it has a ripple effect, causing others to fear and discriminate against that group."

The amicus brief in Hassan v. City of New York was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

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Gov. Chris Christie gets D+ in Civil Rights and Liberties from ACLU-NJ

June 9, 2014
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NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) has given Gov. Chris Christie a D+ (PDF) for his overall record on civil liberties and civil rights during his first term in office. The ACLU-NJ examined the governor’s record in 12 issue areas and gave him his lowest grades in the areas of separation of church and state, transparency, and separation of powers.

The governor earned higher marks in other areas, such as freedom of religion and voting rights. The report card examines the Christie administration from January 19, 2010 when Gov. Christie was sworn into office, to January 20, 2014 when his first term ended.

“Gov. Christie’s overall record on civil liberties and civil rights has been poor, ranging mostly from mediocre to failing,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “The Christie administration’s first-term record on civil liberties will be remembered for its assaults on judicial independence and the separation of church and state, as well as for its disdain for transparency. Some of Governor Christie’s most frustrating civil liberties moments have been those instances where he has failed to back up bold words with substantive actions, such as in the areas of LGBT rights and the failed war on drugs.”

The first-term report card graded the governor on 12 crucial civil rights and liberties issues: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, voting rights, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, privacy, LGBT rights, criminal justice and drug policy, transparency, separation of powers, and economic justice. This report card expanded on the categories of the ACLU-NJ’s 2012 interim report card, which graded him in eight categories.

“The real concern here is not what these grades mean for Gov. Christie and his administration, but what they’ve meant for everyday New Jerseyans,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “From loving couples seeking to get married, to sick patients in need of medical marijuana, to poor New Jerseyans struggling to find an affordable place to live, many of us have not had a friend in the Governor’s office. While there still remains time to improve, as of now, this administration’s legacy on civil rights and liberties is not a proud one.”

Christie’s highest grade came in the area of freedom of religion, the category in which he also earned his highest marks in the ACLU-NJ’s interim report card. Christie deservedly received praise for supporting a developer’s decision to construct a mosque and Muslim community center near the World Trade Center during the height of the controversy in 2011. Soon after, Christie garnered national attention for excoriating a faction that railed against the appointment of a Muslim lawyer to serve as a Superior Court judge.

Christie’s appreciation for freedom of religion swung too far in the other direction when it came down to state involvement in religion. In the category of separation of church and state, Christie received the lowest score – an F. Especially damning was his administration’s decision to give away millions in state funds to two sectarian religious institutions: Beth Medrash Govoha, a school that trains Orthodox rabbis, and Princeton Theological Seminary, which trains Christian clergy.

The ACLU-NJ recognized his administration’s support for voting rights, especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, with a B-. In transparency, separation of powers and economic justice, Christie earned solid Fs for his abysmal record on all three issues across the board. The Bridgegate scandal exposed how frequently the administration attempted to keep government business out of the public eye, but it hardly stands in isolation.

Christie’s protracted fight against marriage equality, which ended only when it became clear that he would lose, cast a long shadow over some of his gestures of good will toward the LGBT community, resulting in his final grade of a D in LGBT rights. When it comes to immigrants’ rights, Gov. Christie supported giving undocumented immigrants a chance at a higher education by signing the NJ Dream Act, but he removed an important provision that would have fully opened the doors of opportunity by allowing them to apply for state financial aid, earning him an overall grade of a C in immigrants’ rights. Gov. Christie earned Cs in a plurality of other subjects as well, including freedom of expression, women’s rights, privacy, and criminal justice and drug policy, although even those grades ranged from C- to C+.

“The Christie administration deserves credit where credit is due, especially in taking a stand for religious expression and being responsive to voting concerns in the wake of Superstorm Sandy,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas. “But where Gov. Christie stumbles, such as when it comes to the separation of powers and to transparency, the bottom falls out. We hope the governor learned his civil liberties lesson from numerous court actions that were successfully brought against his administration during his first term, but if not, we’re ready to compel him to act as if he were an A student.”

Where Do the 12th Congressional District Candidates Stand on Civil Rights and Liberties Issues

May 30, 2014
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On May 1, the ACLU of New Jersey and other leading civil rights organizations hosted a civil rights and liberties debate in Princeton for candidates vying for the 12th Congressional District seat. The seat is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, who is retiring.

Democratic candidates Upendra Chivukula, Linda Greenstein, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Andrew Zwicker and Republican candidate Alieta Eck, squared off on a variety of questions about civil rights and civil liberties issues. The event was moderated by NJTV anchor Mike Schneider.

The ACLU works to protect the fundamental right of every adult citizen in New Jersey to cast a ballot and have that ballot counted. Call the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Election Day hotline: 1-800-792-VOTE (8683) if you encounter any problems at the polls on June 3rd.

Co-sponsoring organization included: AFSC Immigrant Rights Program, CAIR-NJ, Drug Policy Alliance- New Jersey, The Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., New Jersey NAACP State Conference, YWCA Princeton, and YWCA Union County.

Inform yourself about the candidates’ stances on civil rights and liberties issues. (PDF)

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

February 21, 2014
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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.”

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