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January 9th, 2014

FIRE’s Joe Cohn in ‘RealClearPolicy’: ‘A New Year for Student Rights’

2014 presents new opportunities for student rights advocates, argues FIRE’s Joe Cohn over at RealClearPolicy today.

After surveying 2013’s shocking rights violations on campus, Joe says that 2014 offers real promise: 

As legislatures reconvene in this new year, lawmakers will have more opportunities to tackle threats to campus rights. Congress, for example, will begin the process of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, which expired at the close of 2013. Hopefully, the new bill will include provisions to put an end to the type of rights abuses that are too common on our campuses.

Check out the full article over at RealClearPolicy.

Image: “White 2014 Sign” - Shutterstock

FIRE - The Torch

January 9th, 2014

NY District Court Upholds Government’s Right to Search Laptops at the Border


Pascal Abidor
(Source: Huffington Post)

In 2010, a graduate student named Pascal Abidor was traveling from Canada to New York when he was removed from his train and detained by American border agents. In addition to being handcuffed and questioned, his laptop was also seized. Abidor brought suit on the grounds that the seizure of his laptop was an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Abidor, represented by an attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union, was also joined by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Press Photographers Association as plaintiffs. In one of the last court decisions of 2013, the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York issued its decision and upheld the government’s right to perform laptop searches at the border.

This decision is so crushing because the judge upheld the decision on multiple grounds. Judge Korman found that the plaintiffs actually did not have standing for their lawsuit because of how rare these types of searches are. The judge believed that these laptop border searches happen so infrequently that there is not a “substantial risk” of being subjected to one of these searches. Judge Korman explained :

“While ...

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

January 9th, 2014

Convicted Ex-Vietnamese Shipping Firm Boss Drops Bombshell in Court

The former head of a beleaguered Vietnamese state shipping company sentenced to death for corruption has dropped a bombshell at a court hearing, saying he paid bribes to top officials of the ruling Communist Party in a futile bid to avoid arrest and prosecution, according to state media Wednesday.

Duong Tri Dung's testimony that he paid U.S. $500,000 to Deputy Minister of Public Security Pham Quy Ngo and unknown amounts to other senior officials has triggered calls for a new probe following the near collapse of Vinalines under U.S. $3 billion of debt, the media reports said.

"I think they need to put the trial on hold and send the whole case to the prosecutors’ office to look into what Pham Quy Ngo said [on the issue]," a Vietnamese lawyer, Tran Vu Hai, told RFA's Vietnamese Service as he analyzed the media reports, which had described Dung's revelations as "shocking."

Dung made the charges in a Hanoi court during the trial of his brother Duong Tu Trong, a former senior police official in the northern port of Hai Phong, who was on Wednesday sentenced to 18 years in prison for aiding his escape.

The high-level bribery claims are surely to ...

Radio Free Asia

January 9th, 2014

Democracy Campaigners Propose Nomination System for Hong Kong Polls

Pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong proposed on Wednesday a system in which the people of Hong Kong and their elected political parties could nominate candidates for 2017 elections for the city's top leadership job an approach likely to be highly unpopular with Beijing.

The Alliance for True Democracy, an umbrella group comprising academics and 26 pro-democracy legislators and their parties, laid out details of a proposed three-tier nomination system, which has been among the most sensitive areas of debate surrounding the election process.

Under the system, a candidate can be nominated by either the endorsements of at least one percent of registered voters, by political parties who have won at least five percent of votes in the previous legislative election or directly by members of the Nominating Committee, which is heavily influenced by Beijing.

The move came just one week after thousands of people took to the streets to call for universal suffrage in the 2017 race for chief executive.

Currently, Hong Kong’s chief executive, who replaced the British-appointed colonial governor after the 1997 handover of sovereignty, is elected by a committee of 1,200, rather than by a direct vote.

"What we propose is a single, integrated proposal and ...

Radio Free Asia

January 9th, 2014

UN Rights Envoy to Visit Cambodia in Wake of Deadly Crackdown

The U.N.’s human rights monitor for Cambodia is set to visit the country next week in the wake of a violent crackdown by security forces on workers’ strikes and opposition protests which the government has stoutly defended in the face of criticism from the world body.

The announcement of Special Rapporteur Surya Subedi’s trip came as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) threatened to restart mass protests that have been halted since the bloody crackdown last week.

Police on Friday shot dead at least four people during a strike by garment factory workers in the outskirts of Phnom Penh and the next day, security forces violently dispersed supporters of the CNRP from Freedom Park in the capital.

The CNRP had been holding daily protests at the park calling for Prime Minister Hun Sen to resign and hold new elections following July polls which had been tainted by allegations of fraud and other irregularities.

The opposition protests that drew tens of thousands to the streets have posed a major challenge to the government alongside strikes by garment and footwear workers demanding a higher minimum salary.

Subedi’s visit will be his first since before the July elections, in which Hun Sen ...

Radio Free Asia

January 9th, 2014

Court’s Decision Is A Setback, But Not the Final Word, In The Fight Against Secret Law

While 2013 was a banner year in the fight against secret surveillance law, the fight in 2014 got off to an unfortunate start. Last Friday, in a case brought by EFF, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. ruled (pdf) that the Department of Justice could withhold from the public a secret legal opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).

EFF sought the disclosure of the OLC opinion because it purportedly allows the FBI to access the private call records of phone company subscribers without providing any legal process, in spite of federal laws to the contrary.     

In an editorial published today, the New York Times lamented the Court’s decision, noting:

Withholding the opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the president and executive agencies, is deeply troubling. The office’s advice often serves as the final word on what the executive branch may legally do, and those who follow that advice are virtually assured that they will not face prosecution.

Over the past decade, OLC opinions have provided the legal basis for some of the federal government’s most controversial (and, ultimately, illegal) practices: torture, warrantless wiretapping, and ...


January 8th, 2014

UCLA Report Suggests Chilling Speech Is the Answer to Offensive ‘Microaggressions’

Last November, 25 students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) staged a demonstration during a class taught by Professor Val Rust. The protesting students claim Rust contributed to an environment that is hostile to students of color through “microaggressions.” According to researchers who studied the racial climate at the University of California, microaggressions (PDF) are “subtle verbal and nonverbal insults directed toward non-Whites, often done automatically and unconsciously” that can, in the aggregate, negatively affect those who receive them. 

Microaggressions that consist only of speech or expression are protected by the First Amendment unless they also fall into one of the few and narrowly-defined categories of unprotected speech, like true threats or incitement to imminent lawless action. (Since microaggressions are “subtle verbal and nonverbal insults” that are often “done automatically and unconsciously,” this is unlikely.) But the demonstration at UCLA and an investigative report on bias and discrimination at UCLA published in October indicate that microaggressions could be a coming justification for censorship on campus.

During the demonstration at UCLA, students shared their experiences of racial hostility at the school, and a letter co-written by several of the students expressed concern for the safety of students of color. ...

FIRE - The Torch

January 8th, 2014

‘Nature News’ Evaluates the Costs and Benefits of Campus Threat Assessment Teams

Recently, Brendan Maher, an editor for Nature News, interviewed me to get a civil libertarian’s perspective on the growing use of threat assessment teams on college campuses nationwide—a topic I have written about previously. Today, his comprehensive piece, which provides a fair analysis of both the costs and benefits of this new practice, has been published online. Here is what I had to say in the piece:

There are costs to all this watchfulness, however, says Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director for [FIRE]. “It's not unusual for universities to engage in behaviours that chill freedom of speech in the name of safety,” he says. He cites recent examples in which a student was expelled for protesting over the construction of a parking garage and a professor was reported to a threat-assessment team for hanging posters with aggressive messages outside his office. He urges teams to include civil libertarians to better ensure that universities do not encroach on people's rights.

Please read the full article in Nature News. For more of my thoughts on how universities are encroaching on students’ privacy interests, you can also check out my recent blog about Yale University’s policy permitting the school ...

FIRE - The Torch

January 8th, 2014

Utah Librarian To Receive Downs Intellectual Freedom Award

DaNae LeuIn January 2013, a months-long dispute over Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mothers’ House was finally resolved when the Davis School District in Farmington, Utah, returned the picture book to open library shelves. Since April 2012, the book about a lesbian couple and their children had been kept behind the library counter, rather like a controlled substance, and only checked out to students who had parental permission to read it. Now, a school librarian who helped bring media attention to the case and fought to return the book to its rightful place will be honored with a major annual award. Windridge Elementary librarian DaNae Leu will receive the 2013 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference on January 25.

The purpose of the Downs Award, presented by the faculty of the University of Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science in partnership with publishing imprint Libraries Unlimited, is to “acknowledge individuals or groups who have furthered the cause of intellectual freedom, particularly as it affects libraries and information centers and the dissemination of ideas.” (Not to brag or anything, but CBLDF was the 2010 recipient.) A GSLIS press release highlights Leu’s ...

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

January 8th, 2014

BOOM! Studios Welcomes 2014 as CBLDF’s Newest Corporate Member!

boom logoThe Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) announced today that BOOM! Studios has joined the organization as their newest corporate member!

BOOM! Studios Founder & Chief Executive Officer Ross Richie says, “The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is a vital champion for the rights we as publishers, and our retailer partners depend upon to do business. We have always believed that their work helps make it possible for the direct market to support the diversity of content we’re able to publish, and we’re pleased to make a meaningful impact in their important work with this support.”

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein says, “BOOM! Studios has distinguished itself for its commitment to the direct market by publishing one of the fastest rising and diverse publishing lines in comics. As CBLDF’s latest corporate member, they are taking a leadership position in helping us protect the freedom to read comics. We’re thrilled to have them aboard.”

BOOM! Studios joins industry leaders Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, Dark Horse, DC Entertainment, Discount Comic Book Service, Diamond Comic Distributors, IDW Publishing , Image Comics, Random House, Valiant, and TFAW.com as Corporate Members in supporting CBLDF’s important work protecting the First Amendment rights of the comics art ...

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund