Category - Liberties

Twitter Has Censored Gory Images of the Paris Attacks

French authorities reportedly asked the company to block certain content.

Mother Jones, By Josh Harkinson, November 17

Over the past three days, Twitter has been preventing its users in France from viewing certain images and keywords related to the Paris attacks. The censorship, first reported today by the French newspaper Le Monde, applies to a keyword used by supporters of the Islamic State, tweets advocating terrorism, and, more controversially, graphic photographs taken inside the Bataclan after the terrorist attacks there left dozens dead.

On Sunday, France’s National Police used its Twitter account to ask social media users not to contribute to “the spread of photos of crime scenes,” out of “respect for victims and their families.” It encouraged Twitter users to send links to photos from the Bataclan massacre to PHAROS, a government website that compiles reports of illegal online activity.

On the same day, French law enforcement officials sent a request directly to Twitter, demanding the removal of certain tweets, according to Lumen, a Harvard University database of government takedown requests. The reasons the authorities gave for the request were a “serious attack on human dignity (images of cadavers)” and “secrecy of the investigation.”


“France has become nothing short of a nightmare when it comes to free speech,” says Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University. “The French government has aggressively rolled back free speech protections for years. I never thought I would see the day when France would become the leader in censorship and the criminalization of speech, however, it has become precisely that.”

Mexico Supreme Court rules pot use is constitutional right

Landmark decision legalizes recreational use for marijuana club members only; move likely to force legislative action.

Al Jazeera, By Alfonso Serrano, November 4

Smoking marijuana is a basic human right. That extraordinary argument swayed Mexico’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, when it ruled that a federal health law prohibiting cannabis cultivation and personal use violates the constitution — an unprecedented decision that may trigger similar court appeals and pressure the country’s congress to weigh widespread legalization of the drug.

In a landmark interpretation of drug laws widely blamed for violence that has claimed thousands of lives in Mexico, a panel of five judges ruled in favor of a nonprofit marijuana club — the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Autoconsumption, or SMART — which argued that the health law violates the right to the “free development of one’s personality.” In essence, SMART lawyers successfully claimed that the constitution allows individuals the autonomy to experiment with the effects of cannabis despite the potential dangers the practice entails.

The 4-1 ruling followed an injunction filed by SMART against a 2013 ruling by Mexico’s health regulator that prohibited the organization from cultivating and consuming cannabis for recreational purposes.

“It’s a historic ruling because it centers the drug policy discussion on human rights, because it declares that prohibitions concerning personal use and cultivation are excessive,” said Lisa Sánchez, Latin America program manager for U.K.-based the nonprofit Transform Drug Policy Foundation. “This is a very important step. It not only gives us jurisprudence. It demonstrates an incoherence between the country’s most qualified jurists and congressional legislation. This should have an effect on Congress to reform [drug] policy as soon as possible.”

China to end decades-old one-child policy, bowing to demographic strain

Policy shift, which comes after family planning restrictions were eased in 2013, will allow couples to have two children.

Al Jazeera, October 29

China will ease family planning restrictions to allow all couples to have two children, ending the country’s decades-long one-child policy in a move to alleviate the looming demographic strain on the labor market.

The decision, announced by the ruling Communist Party, is a major liberalization of the country’s family planning restrictions, but follows months of rumors of a policy change. It also comes after the one-child rule was eased in late 2013, with Beijing saying then that it would allow more families to have two children providing that at least one parent was an only child.

“China will allow all couples to have two children, abandoning its decades-long one-child policy,” the official Xinhua new agency said in a short report.

The decision was contained in a Communist Party communiqué that followed a meeting of the party’s Central Committee on planning the country’s economic and social development through 2020.

Senate passes controversial cybersecurity bill Cisa 74 to 21

Senate votes in favor of bill critics including Edward Snowden say will allow the government to collect sensitive personal data unchecked

The Guardian, By Sam Thielman, October 27

The US Senate overwhelmingly passed a controversial cybersecurity bill critics say will allow the government to collect sensitive personal data unchecked, over the objections of civil liberties groups and many of the biggest names in the tech sector.

The vote on Tuesday was 74 to 21 in support of the legislation. Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders voted against the bill. None of the Republican presidential candidates (except Lindsey Graham, who voted in favor) were present to cast a vote, including Rand Paul, who has made privacy from surveillance a major plank of his campaign platform.

Ahead of the vote a group of university professors specializing in tech law, many from the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy, sent an open letter to the Senate, urging them not to pass the bill. The bill, they wrote, would fatally undermine the Freedom of Information Act (Foia).
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Amnesty International approves policy supporting decriminalization of sex trade

AP, August 12

London – Amnesty International approved a controversial policy Tuesday to endorse the de-criminalization of the sex trade, rejecting complaints from some women’s rights groups who say it is tantamount to advocating the legalization of pimping and brothel owning.

At its decision-making forum in Dublin, the human rights watchdog approved the resolution to recommend “full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work.” It argues its research suggests decriminalization is the best way to defend sex workers’ human rights.

“We recognize that this critical human rights issue is hugely complex and that is why we have addressed this issue from the perspective of international human rights standards,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “We also consulted with our global movement to take on board different views from around the world.”

After Freddie Gray

The Kingsley decision creates a crucial new constitutional protection against police abuse.

Slate, By Mark Joseph Stern, June 22

In April of 2010, five police officers put Michael Kingsley face down on a cement bunk in a holding cell, shocked him with a stun gun for five seconds, then left him alone, writhing in pain with his hands cuffed behind his back, for 15 minutes. Kingsley sued the officers, claiming they violated his constitutional rights by using excessive force. He lost.

On Monday, the Supreme Court gave Kingsley a second chance, ruling that the trial court gave the jury bad instructions. In a narrow sense, the decision turns on a technical question of intent. In a broader sense, though, the ruling is a blast of good news for opponents of police brutality—an emphatic declaration that the Constitution bars police from beating and abusing suspects in custody.

At the heart of Kingsley v. Hendrickson is a pretty straightforward question of intent. During the trial, the judge told the jury that Kingsley must lose unless he could prove the officers knew their actions could unduly harm Kingsley but went through with them anyway. Under that high standard, Kingsley lost. It’s incredibly difficult to prove law enforcement intentionally deprived suspects of their constitutional rights. Just ask the family of Michael Brown.

But Kingsley argued that he shouldn’t have to prove the officers were subjectively aware that their use of force was unreasonable. By forcing him to convince a jury that the officers had a malicious state of mind, Kingsley believed, the court made him clear too high a hurdle to vindicate his constitutional rights. Rather, Kingsley insisted that he should only have to prove that their use of force was objectively unreasonable to win his suit.

A bare majority of the Supreme Court agreed with Kingsley, sending the case back down to an appeals court to decide whether the error was so grave that Kingsley must be given a new trial. The dry majority opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer barely hints that the decision will have an impact beyond Kingsley’s case. But in reality, Kingsley constructs a crucial new constitutional protection against police abuse—a protection especially vital in the shadow of Freddie Gray’s shocking death.

With Little Fanfare, Mexican Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

New York Times, By Randcal C. Archibold * Pauline Villegas, June 14

Mexico City – His church turned him away, his family discouraged him from a public fight and the government of the state where he lives vowed it would never happen.

But it did. Hiram Gonzalez married his boyfriend, Severiano Chavez, last year in the northern state of Chihuahua, which, like most Mexican states, technically allows marriage only between a man and a woman.

Mr. Gonzalez and dozens of other gay couples in recent months have, however, found a powerful ally: Mexico’s Supreme Court.

In ruling after ruling, the court has said that state laws restricting marriage to heterosexuals are discriminatory. Though the decisions have been made to little public fanfare, they have had the effect of legalizing gay marriage in Mexico without enshrining it in law.

The Supreme Court Just Killed One of the Country’s Most Extreme Anti-Abortion Laws

Mother Jones, By Pema Levy, June 15

The Supreme Court killed one of the nation’s most extreme anti-abortion laws on Monday.

The justices declined to hear a case concerning the constitutionality of a North Carolina law that required women seeking an abortion to submit to a mandatory ultrasound. The law also compelled physicians to show women the images and describe the fetus in detail. Unlike similar laws in Texas, Wisconsin, and Louisiana that include some exceptions for victims of rape or incest, the North Carolina measure made no exceptions for rape, incest, health risks to the mother, or severe abnormalities in the fetus.

Most abortion cases center on the rights of pregnant women, but this one hinged on doctors’ First Amendment right to free speech—or in this case, their lack of freedom to choose what to tell their patients. The North Carolina law, passed in 2011 over the veto of then-Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, was struck down by a federal district court in North Carolina. The Fourth Circuit agreed that the “compelled speech provision” was unconstitutional. By refusing to take the case, the Supreme Court has assured that the law remains dead.

Bill C-51: Canada’s new McCarthy era where advocating for action against climate change is terrorism, By John Bennett, Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada, May 31

First, I’d like to acknowledge the terrible incidents that took place last fall here in Ottawa and in Quebec and share our deepest sympathies for the families. We are very much aware of the threats and support all appropriate measures to protect Canadians. However, we are concerned about Bill C-51 because it casts too broad a net and will very likely undermine the freedoms it is supposed to protect.

The Sierra Club Canada was founded back in 1892, making us probably the oldest conservation organization in North America. We’ve been active in Canada for over 50 years, and we have a number of chapters and groups across the country. We are a volunteer-led, democratic organization. Our members elect the board of directors in annual elections, and our volunteers work along with staff to preserve and protect our natural environment.

Although we employ a wide range of tactics to draw attention to important issues, it’s a clear policy of Sierra Club Canada Foundation to only engage in legal activities. To my knowledge, no one has broken the law in the name of the club in the last hundred years.
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Ireland Votes to Approve Gay Marriage, Putting Country in Vanguard

New York Times, By Danny Hakim & Douglas Dalby, May 23

Dublin — Ireland has become the first nation to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote, sweeping aside the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church in a resounding victory Saturday for the gay rights movement and placing the country at the vanguard of social change.

With ballots from 34 out of the 43 voting areas counted, the vote was almost two to one in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. All but one of the districts that were counted voted yes, and it appeared to be statistically impossible for opposition votes to overcome the ayes.

Turnout was large — more than 60 percent of the 3.2 million people eligible to vote cast ballots. Government officials, advocates and even those who had argued against the measure said that the outcome was a resounding endorsement of the constitutional amendment.

Irish Times: Marriage Referendum
Irish Times: Marriage Referendum Results
Irish Times: Ireland becomes first country to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote