In 2006, the Nebraska Public Service Commission listened to ACLU of Nebraska lawyers argue against phone companies like AT&T and Verizon, who violated state law by cooperating with the National Security Agency’s wiretapping and phone spying programs. That year, ACLU Nationwide took action against NSA snooping via phone companies.
At the hearing, Commissioner Frank Landis challenged the phone companies' attempt to assert legal defenses such as governmental immunity and “Secrets Privilege”: a legal concept that allows the government to shield national security issues from the public. Legal Director Amy Miller urged the Commission to follow the lead of other states and either ask limited questions of the phone companies or at least keep the complaint open without dismissal in case further information became public.
Ten years later, we are still fighting to protect your right to privacy, working with elected officials to form a bipartisan coalition that introduces legislation to safeguard students’ privacy, regulate location tracking and challenge government attainment of personal data.
Now, we are working to make sure that Stingrays, also known as “cell site simulators” or “IMSI catchers,” are being used properly. These are intrusive cell phone surveillance devices that act as cell phone towers and send out signals to make cell phones in the area transmit their locations and identify information. Police can use these to track a suspect’s cell phone, but Stingrays also have the ability of picking up information on the phones of bystanders near the suspect.
Protecting both privacy and First Amendment rights is part of our mission. The law must keep up with technology and the government must be transparent about the tools they use. This includes putting rules on their usage into place in order to secure citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights and prevent abuse.
The ACLU supports and defends Edward Snowden – the whistleblower of illegal government surveillance activity that was sanctioned and kept secret by the national government. The United States is prosecuting him even after the courts declared the NSA surveillance program unconstitutional. We urge the government to pardon Snowden, who brought the individual rights of US citizens to the forefront with his patriotic actions.
2016 is the 50th anniversary of the ACLU of Nebraska. We will feature several memories from our five decades of defending freedom in the Cornhusker state here. Do you have a favorite memory? Share it with us!