Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday First Amendment Roundup: August 1

After major action in the Third Circuit last week, this week has been a quiet one - which gives us an opportunity to look at some of the smaller cases happening around the country. Like a mountain eroded by wind, our civil liberties are whittled away, pebble by tiny pebble, by the forces of oppression and control - and the ACLU is always there glue? I don't know.... What holds mountains together?

I usually try to start here at home in PA, so if you haven't already seen it on our front page, check out the story of Marshall Pappert of Bridgeville, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Marshall was convicted of harassment for phoning his borough manager at his business number in regard to a civil complaint about pollution and noise from a nearby business - note that Marshall had been designated by his neighbors as a spokesperson for this issue.

I feel bad laughing at peoples' misfortune, but the very idea that a person should be charged with a crime for calling a civil servant about a civil complaint is so ludicrous, I hope Marshall will understand if I chuckle.


The FCC has announced that Comcast violated the law when they blocked users' ability to access certain types of internet traffic, and Comcast will likely face reprimand. The ACLU and other groups are hailing the decision as a step forward for Net Neutrality; others are saying this will only serve as the "shot heard around the world" in a war over Net Neutrality.


The buildup to the Beijing Olypmics continues (only a few days remain now!) and issues of free expression abound. Reporters already in Beijing have found that their internet access is heavily restricted in accordance with China's Orwellian policies on controlling "truth." Meanwhile Wikipedia, which is traditionally blocked in China, has suddenly become available across the country. Citizens of China better soak in all the information they can, however; experts assume the site will be blocked again once the Olympic Games are over.


Before we leave issues on the interwebs, take a look at this case in Yale, which has drawn back the curtain on anonymous web posting. I won't even pretend to understand the heavy implications here - I'm pretty sure I'd need a Yale Law degree to do so - but the basics are interesting.

For more than a decade people have been posting all manner of things on the internet, under the premise that their identities would always be hidden behind a mask of anonymity. Trouble is all of those years of embarrassing posts live on, preserved in perpetuity on millions of servers, and if and when that mask of anonymity is removed, those statements can come back to bite people - like, for instance, destroying their budding legal careers.

Even more interesting is the current list of defendents:

"PaulieWalnuts, Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey, The Ayatollah of Rock-n-Rollah, Patrick Bateman and HitlerHitlerHitler"
In the words of Banky Edwards, "that's what the internet is for: slandering people anonymously!"


As China contemplates civil liberties in preparation for the Olympics, so Minneapolis and Denver face similar decisions in preparation for the Republican and Democratic conventions, respectively.

"Hmmm.... Do we allow Americans to assemble and speak? Or do we arrest and jail protesters and then try to cover it up?"

In Denver, the City is pursuing a recent popular trend, informing the protesters that it's fine if they express themselves, just as long as they do it far away where no one will notice them. The ACLU and other groups have filed suit against the City to allow the protesters to actually stand near the thing they are protesting. The trial ended Thursday and a federal judge is considering her ruling.

Fox News reports that the City of Denver this week reassured the ACLU and other groups that they are not planning to attack protesters with an urban legend: the brown note, which legend holds will cause uncontrollable instant defacation in all who are beholden to it. It's a great article because it reports on a real news story, but also uses an unattributed 'rumor' to make the ACLU look like morons. Fox News, how do you do it?

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, the RNC has thanked the City for their hospitality by presenting a gift they've always wanted: a surveillance society!! Minneapolis has reportedly been installing new surveillance cameras all around the Xcel Energy center.

"We've been planning this for years. The fact that we were able to install it using RNC money is just to our advantage," Tom Walsh of the St. Paul Police Department said.

It still seems to me a little bit like when a guy gives a girl lingerie, you know? It's more of a gift for him, really.


Moving on, it's time for Religious Freedom Rodeo!


Lastly, a big good-on-ya to U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore, who ruled on Thursday that Okeechobee High School in Okeechobee, Florida, could not refuse to recognize a student-founded gay-straight alliance. It's a victory that will hopefully carry over to the many other schools around the country where students who are trying to spead a message of tolerance find themselves stymied by administrators who are intolerant or uncomfortable with the concepts of sex or homosexuality.

My favorite part of this story is that, while an injunction forced the school board to allow the group to meet, the board refused to let the students use the word "gay." That's just a beautiful illustration of the kinds of people we're talking about here.

I wonder what word the students used instead. I hope it was something really offensive.

Chris in Philly

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Blogger teacherninja said...

This is great--is this done every week? I need to add it to my feed reader. Thanks!

7:42 AM  
Blogger ACLU of Pennsylvania said...

That's the idea... I can't promise we'll never miss a week, but we'll do our best. Thanks for commenting!

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the Gay Straight Alliance can't use the word gay. I guess they'll now call themselves the Homosexual, Heterosexual Alliance or HHA. Somehow that reminds me of the FFA, Future Farmers of America.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Kanus, I should point out that (as I understand it, at least) the students are now permitted to use the word "gay." That rule was only in place during a period when an injunction applied.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great discussion! --------------------
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6:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great round up! Hopefully we get a posting every Friday!

Making stuff up is fun, but with some of these internet rumors (e.g., the "brown note") you might find one or more of them going viral!!

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trouble is all of those years of embarrassing posts live on, preserved in perpetuity on millions of servers, and if and when that mask of anonymity is removed, those statements can come back to bite people - like, for instance, destroying their budding legal careers.

5:49 AM  

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