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ACLU taps CATCH founder as its new executive director

Greg Morris, former executive director and founder of CATCH, which stands for Charitable Assistance to Community’s Homeless, has been hired as the new executive director of the ACLU of Idaho, the third person to hold that position in the group's two-decade history. The previous two were Jack Van Valkenburgh and Monica Hopkins; click below for the group's full announcement.

Mom’s Surveillance Fight Gets Boost

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho have joined Anna Smith’s legal team in her challenge of the government’s bulk collection of the telephone records. Smith, an emergency neonatal nurse and pregnant mother of two, filed her suit against President Barack Obama and several U.S. intelligence agencies shortly after the government confirmed revelations that the National Security Agency was conducting bulk collection of telephone records under a section of the Patriot Act. Smith, a customer of Verizon wireless, one of the companies that was ordered to disclose records to the NSA, argued the program violated her First and Fourth Amendment rights by collecting a wealth of detail about her personal and professional associations. “When I found out that the NSA was collecting records of my phone calls, I was shocked,” said Smith, who is represented by her husband, Coeur d’Alene attorney Peter J. Smith, and Idaho state Rep. Luke Malek, of Coeur d’Alene/David Cole, Coeur d'Alene Press. More here.

Question: Glad to see Rep. Luke Malek involved in this. Thoughts?

Drone bill vetoed

OLYMPIA — A proposal to regulate the use of drones by law enforcement and other agencies was vetoed Friday. Gov. Jay Inslee said the bill did not do enough to protect the public's right to privacy and raised questions about public records.

In its place, Inslee said he was issuing an executive order for a moratorium for the next 15 months on purchase or use of unmanned aircraft by state agencies for anything other than emergencies, such as forest fires. He said he hoped local police chiefs and sheriffs would issue similar orders, and the Legislature would take another run at the issue next year.

The proposal had broad, bipartisan support in the Legislature, with backing of both the ACLU and the law enforcement community. Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Mike Padden, who helped shepherd the bill through the final days of the session, said he was surprised by the veto.

"We had worked with so many different groups, getting their input," Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said.

The bill set up standards for state and local government's use of unmanned aircraft or drones, with requirements for obtaining warrants for surveillance uses by law enforcement.

In striking down the House Bill 2789, Inslee called it "one of the most complex bills we've had to analyze"  and said the emerging technology of drones create difficult issues for government. The bill had some conflicting provisions on disclosure of personal information, he added 

"I'm very concerned about the effect of this new technology on our citizens' right to to privacy," he said."People have a desire not to see drones parked outside their kitchen window by any public agency."

Sections of the bill dealing with exemptions to public record laws for some information gathered by drones could create a "major carve-out" to the state's public records laws, Inslee added. 

Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, called Inslee's veto disappointing and described the bill as "well-balanced and carefully considered." His call for a  15-month moratorium will have little impact, she said in a prepared statement, because it still allows agencies to acquire drones and "includes no rules for their use after acquisition."

Padden said legislators worked at balancing the rights of privacy with law enforcement's needs to gather information on criminal activity.

"We thought there were some safeguards in there with the warrants," he said. The bill required police to obtain a warrant from a judge for using drones the same why they would need a warrant for other types of surveillance.

 

Lawsuit targets Boise’s new anti-panhandling ordinance

Boise's new ordinance against aggressive panhandling doesn't take effect until January, but today it was challenged in federal court on grounds it violates the First Amendment rights to free speech and expression and that it places an unfair burden on people struggling to make ends meet, AP reporter Todd Dvorak reports. The lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court by the Idaho ACLU and two Boise homeless men, a 58-year-old street musician who suffers from psoriatic arthritis, and a 38-year-old who said he lives in a truck and seeks handouts to buy gasoline so he can commute from one temporary job to another; click below for Dvorak's full report. The City Council approved the ordinance in September with support of downtown merchants.

Public Defender Stunned By Firing

Kootenai County commissioners voted to end a contract with longtime public defender John Adams three weeks after he made a harassment claim against a commissioner and two weeks after telling the board he’ll need a day off each week for cancer treatment. Adams has run the public defender office for 17 years and earned broad respect from the region’s legal community. During his tenure, he was the lead attorney on 26 murder cases and seven death-penalty cases, including the state trial of child killer Joseph Duncan. Adams, 59, said he was stunned by the decision, but the reaction of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho was even more forceful. The organization complained his firing comes at a time when Idaho’s overall system of public defense has been deemed deficient, lacking resources and in some counties falls short of its constitutional obligations/Scott Maben, SR. More here.

Question: Do you think the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners botched the firing of long-time Public Defender John Adams?

Update: Abortion Flap Stuns Mendive

Freshman Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, was surprised to learn that there’s a news story out about a question he asked this morning regarding abortion and prostitution – and that it’s going viral. He attended an ACLU breakfast presentation in the Capitol this morning, and when  it was opened up for questions and answers at the end, Mendive said his question was prompted by the group placing women’s reproductive rights among its high priorities. So he asked whether the ACLU supports prostitution along with abortion, because it’s also “a woman’s choice.” The Associated Press reported that there were “audible gasps” in the room at his question/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.

Question: Betsy reports that Mendive was surprised to see his comments to the ACLU reps go viral today. Should he be?