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Mass. SWAT Teams Claim They Are “Private Companies” & Don’t Have to Share Records
We often express our desire for police forces to be privatized, but in Massachusetts (and presumably other states as well) privatization has taken a darker turn concerning law enforcement. When the MA ACLU chapter submitted a request for records that should be available from any taxpayer-funded agency, it received a very illuminating response. From the Washington Post:
As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments.
Some of these LECs have also apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And it’s here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501(c)(3) status means that they’re private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say they’re immune from open records requests. Let’s be clear. These agencies oversee police activities. They employ cops who carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure and kill. They operate SWAT teams, which conduct raids on private residences. And yet they say that because they’ve incorporated, they’re immune to Massachusetts open records laws. The state’s residents aren’t permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what they’re used for, what sort of training they get or who they’re primarily used against.
This is insanity. Any agency with the power to kill as condoned and funded by the state and its citizens must be able to be held accountable and have transparency in its reporting. It may be no coincidence that these SWAT organizations have tried to go private to avoid scrutiny. As the WaPo article goes on to examine, MA has a long history of problems with SWAT teams when it comes to excessive use of force and accountability.
Congress Looks Into Government Agency Use of Cell Tower Simulators
In a bipartisan effort, two senators – Sen. Leahy (D) from Vermont and Sen. Grassley (R) – have undertaken an inquiry into the use of “cell tower simulators” by government law agencies. These tower simulators have the ability to track suspects, but also can steal information from unwitting and innocent passersby without their knowledge. From the Washington Times:
“The Judiciary Committee needs a broader understanding of the full range of law enforcement agencies that use this technology, the policies in place to protect the privacy interests of those whose information might be collected using these devices, and the legal process that DOJ and DHS entities seek prior to using them,” the senators wrote in the letter dated Dec. 23 and released Wednesday.
The senators also wrote that after briefings by FBI officials with staffers, the FBI changed its policy so that it now obtains a search warrant before deploying a simulator, with “a number of potentially broad exemptions.”
Those exemptions include cases that pose an imminent public safety danger, cases that involve a fugitive, and cases where technology is being used in public places or areas the agency determines there’s no “reasonable” expectation of privacy.
So they can simply use this technology in a public place to collect data from anyone in the region unawares? That violates any definition of “reasonable.”
It’s a good sign that these Senators are taking this issue seriously and looking into it. We’ll see what shakes out.
Judge Rules New Hampshire Libertarian Party Can Challenge Ballot Law
A federal judge gave the New Hampshire Libertarian Party a boost when he ruled that they could challenge NH state laws that could stymie Libertarian candidates from getting on the ballot. From the AP:
A third party can have its nominees placed on the New Hampshire general election ballot by winning at least 4 percent of the vote for either governor or U.S. senator in the most recent election or by collecting signatures equal to 3 percent of the total votes cast during the prior election. Under a law that took effect in July, parties can’t begin gathering those signatures until Jan. 1 of the election year.
The state argues that the change ensures that signatures on nomination papers are valid, but the Libertarian Party sued, arguing that it would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the party to petition its way onto the ballot.
The state asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, but U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro refused. In a ruling this week, he noted that the right to vote must be balanced against the state’s interest in conducting orderly elections, but said whether or not the new restrictions are reasonable depends on factors that have yet to be explored.
It seems clear that the harder we fight against the two party system that still currently plagues this country, the harder those in power fight to keep the status quo through legislation and downright thievery (as with the GOP so very recently). At least this one battle is going in our favor, for the time being.
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