Weekly Rights Review: 4/22

April 21, 2011

With incredible cases and an amazing amount of support from civil liberties fans, it seems like we've been working around the clock.

This week we're trying to discover just what Michigan State Police are doing with your cellphone, congratulating Royal Oak for changing a bad panhandling law and defending free speech for everyone (even when it hurts).

Michigan News

The Spy in your Cellphone
Turns out people really get upset when they think their 4th Amendment rights could be being violated.

Three years ago, we found out that the Michigan State Police had devices that could copy all the data on your cell phone in seconds.

Since a tool that powerful carries a great risk of being abused, we asked MSP just how they were using these devices. They replied it would cost over $500,000 to find out.

Our long-deferred FOIA requests and their troubling implications were picked up all over the internet, from Boing Boing to ABC News to a great piece on Michigan Radio.

Offensive Speech is Still Free Speech
We think controversial pastor Terry Jones is offensive.

However, if the First Amendment is going to have any meaning, then it must protect the expression of offensive ideas. The government cannot suppress free speech simply because it is unpopular.

So while we may be offended and disagree with Rev. Jones’ message, we support his constitutional right to express himself.

Read about Supreme Court rulings on free speech in our brief defending Terry Jones' First Amendment rights. (via the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press)

No Crime to be Poor
After our letters reminding Royal Oak officials that being poor is not a crime, the city has taken a giant step toward narrowing their ban on panhandling to only target aggressive and threatening behavior.

Other cities in Michigan also make asking for charity illegal, and we hope that they soon follow Royal Oak's example.

"Royal Oak officials should be commended for taking responsible steps to protect the First Amendment rights of poor people,” said Dan Korobkin, one of our staff attorneys (via the Daily Tribune and MLive.com)