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RI ACLU Issues Report Examining Civil Liberties in the State Ten Years After 9/11

Posted: September 08, 2011|Category: Civil Rights

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The Rhode Island ACLU today issued a report examining some of the civil liberties battles that have taken place specifically in Rhode Island in the past decade in response to the government’s “war on terrorism.” Noting that the tenth anniversary of 9/11 offers a time for reflection on the “devastating and horrific loss of life that occurred that day,” the report adds that it also presents an opportunity to reflect on the government’s response and, how “all too often, it has acted in ways inimical to basic civil liberties.”

One aim of the report is to note how the government’s “war on terrorism” has permeated almost every facet of life “in small, but meaningful, ways and has left significant marks on the civil liberties of Rhode Islanders.” An examination of a sample of local incidents, activities and policies serves to demonstrate “the breadth and depth of 9/11’s effect on our freedoms in Rhode Island, and Rhode Island’s own role in protecting or eroding those freedoms.”

Among the varied issues and events reviewed in the report are: the very public arrest of a devout Sikh one day after 9/11 who was singled out as a “terrorist” solely because of the way he looked; the placement of information about a peace protest in downtown Providence in a federal terrorism database; the RI ACLU’s efforts to hold two telephone companies accountable for  unlawfully  sharing  the  personal  telephone  records  of  thousands  of  residents  with  the National Security Agency; the passage of a state law in 2003 intended to deal with bioterrorism that carries “the potential of enormous risk to our civil liberties at some indefinite point in the future”; the presence of a state “fusion center” at State Police headquarters, representing a “new normal” where “widespread surveillance and secrecy now almost go unnoticed like the air we breathe”; and the defeat of an extraordinarily dangerous “homeland security” bill proposed by Governor Donald Carcieri in 2004.

The report concludes:

We can be both safe and free.  A healthy respect for our Constitution and a commitment  to  the  rule  of  law  it  embodies,  and  a  deep  recognition  of  the importance of our civil liberties even in times of crisis are the best responses to violence and to those who advocate it.

The RI ACLU hopes that this report, reviewing some of the civil liberties battles that have been won and lost in the last ten years, will encourage a renewed dedication and devotion to protecting these rights despite, as well as a healthy skepticism of the ongoing efforts by some government agencies to scare us into believing that civil rights are incompatible with a strong nation facing an amorphous and indefinite “war.”

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