Civil Liberties No. 216
The civil liberties protected by the U.S. Constitution, freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition, are basic to a democratic society. For this reason, all Americans must stand ready to defend them whenever and however they are threatened, particularly in the name of national security.
Today, pressures to stifle dissent and free expression come increasingly from (1) those who seek to reduce freedom in the name of fighting and (2) religious elements of the extreme right who challenge our right to make our own choices in every facet of our lives. The new information and communication technologies which have such great potential for enhancing our lives can also pose serious threats to our rights of privacy and free expression.
Right to Dissent
The right to dissent in a democratic society is a crucial means of seeking change in public policy and checking abuse of governmental power.
ADA condemns abuses of civil liberties, which tend to stifle dissent. We urge the elimination of:
Freedom of the Press
Equally important rights can conflict. The right to gather and disseminate information and opinions on every aspect of our society is essential to the process of self-government. The free exercise of this right by investigative journalists, creative artists, or researchers frequently provides a force for righting social and political wrongs. However, the right of a defendant to an impartial jury is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, and this right may conflict with the First Amendment right to Freedom of the Press. The reconciliation of these two fundamental rights presents a major challenge to our system of justice.
To safeguard the right to gather and disseminate information, ADA recommends that Congress enact legislation embodying the following principle: no person engaged in gathering, reporting, editing, or producing materials for dissemination in newspapers, periodicals, books and reports, on radio, television, film, tape, and stage, or through any other public media, shall be compelled to disclose information or information sources to any federal, state, or local government agency, investigating committee, grand jury, or court. Federal legislation embodying this principle should create minimum national standards which state and local legislation may exceed.
The Right to Information
The right to honest and accurate information is a fundamental civil liberty in a democratic society. It should not be necessary for courageous public servants and members of the press to risk their careers by "stealing" the truth for the American people. Nor should congressional committees be denied legitimate access to information through questionable assertions of executive privilege, classification of materials or delayed and indecipherable reports from government agencies. Unreasonable fees should not be used to deny access to federal documents. ADA supports full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act. We seek automatic declassification of all classified information after a reasonable waiting period, unless, after being justified before an independent commission, continued classification is specifically authorized annually.
The Right to Privacy
An individual has an inherent right to pursue lawful activities, whether in public or in private, in an environment free from overt or covert intrusion by the government. Technological advances, available in an era of heightened vigilance and suspicion, can provide a dangerous incentive and justification for governmental officials and agencies to violate an individual's civil rights. As such, government information gathering activities require close scrutiny and oversight.
ADA specifically opposes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as an affront to a democracy. It allows the Chief Justice to empanel a secret court, which is not subject to any further judicial review. This allows the government to spy on people in the United States in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Although it was originally passed to allow the government to collect foreign intelligence information from "agents of foreign powers," it has been perverted through a partnership with the USA Patriot Act. The USA Patriot Act, passed by Congress in 2001 and renewed in 2006, now allows the government to use FISA to obtain the personal records of ordinary Americans from libraries and Internet Service Providers, and to conduct secret searches of homes and offices.
ADA opposes any law or governmental action which invades or infringes on an individual's right of privacy such as telephone, internet, credit card, and library usage, as well as financial transactions.
ADA opposes any law restricting the freedom of adults to read, see, listen, view or create what they choose. ADA opposes prior restraints on publications without a court order and probable cause, including demands for pre-publication censorship of material written by former government agents, which deprive the public of its right to know. ADA opposes governmental intrusion into the reading and viewing habits of private citizens, including in their schools and libraries.
Law Enforcement Practices
ADA continues to oppose the abuses of civil liberties by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. ADA opposes the use of legitimate national security concerns of the American people to erode civil liberties.
Loyalty and Security
ADA recognizes the need to protect agencies and private industries concerned with national defense from sabotage or espionage. Nevertheless, we oppose the use of federal, state, and local loyalty or security programs except when clearly sensitive positions are involved. We demand that any person whose public or private employment is jeopardized by a loyalty or security proceeding be given the right to a full and fair hearing with the opportunity to confront his or her accuser.
ADA opposes loyalty oaths other than the traditional one taken by government employees to support the Constitution and the laws of the United States. No oath should be required of students, scientists, or others as a condition for receiving federal subsidies.
Right to Travel
ADA opposes any federal practice or legislation to deny passports to political dissenters. The Supreme Court has found that the ability to travel freely across the borders of the United States is a right protected by the First and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution, except in the case of national security concerns.
We condemn the State Department's banning of travel by Americans to other countries except when safety is in jeopardy. We also condemn the State Department's practice of refusing visas or invoking any other sanctions upon foreigners or citizens who have been critical of our foreign policy or whose political views or sexual orientation are unpopular. ADA supports the right to unrestricted travel in the U.S.
ADA condemns ethnic or racial profiling searches conducted without probable cause.
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