Weekly Rights Review: Your Privacy Rights In Court

June 14, 2013

From couples trying to adopt children and to people on hard times: we're fighting discrimination against innocent people in Michigan. This week, hear up-to-the minute news about second-parent adoptions, banning free speech, and the government's misguided and dangerous dragnet of you phonecalls and DNA.

Michigan News

Begging Case Heard in U.S. Court of Appeals
On Thursday morning, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney, Miriam Aukerman, argued a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals that illustrates how the state statute that bans begging is unconstitutional. We won the case last summer in federal District Court, but the Attorney General’s office appealed the decision.

Ernest Sims lives on less than $300 a month and was repeatedly arrested for simply asking people to help him with busfare. He was sentenced to $100 or two days in jail. See a video of Ernest here.

Michigan’s blanket ban on some people asking for change, while allowing advertising and other speech in the same circumstances, violates the First Amendment and endangers all our free speech rights. One of the founding principles of our country is that the government doesn't gets to decide who deserves to be heard in public. If we let that protection slide for some people, who will be next?

Adoption Obstacles for LGBT Couples
Our LGBT Legal Project Staff Attorney, Jay Kaplan, was quoted in a series of Michigan Radio stories about the difficulties that same-sex couples face in adopting children.

The stories include descriptions of the unfortunate discrimination that LGBT couples experience throughout the adoption process, from power-hungry judges to prejudiced adoption agencies. Read or listen to the full stories here and here

DNA Seizures
Last week, in a disappointing decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is legal to take DNA swabs of every arrested felon. That this extreme invasion of privacy isn't just for convicted felons, but innocent people who have never been proven guilty of a crime.

This week, a very similar bill was adopted in Michigan. However, thankfully, the bill includes a plan to remove people’s DNA from the databank if they are not convicted of a felony after their arrest. Nevertheless, we must stay wary because it is very possible that government agencies may not follow through on this plan and the DNA of innocent people will never be completely erased.

National News

Action against NSA Surveillance
The ACLU filed a lawsuit that challenges the NSA's massive surveillance program this Tuesday, less than a week after the revelations about the government’s indiscriminate cell phone tracking were released. The lawsuit claims that the program violates Americans’ constitutional rights of free speech, association, and privacy, and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

In addition to the lawsuit, the ACLU also filed a motion in the FISA court earlier this week and has an ongoing FOIA litigation that are investigating and challenging Section 215 of the Patriot Act (the law that officials cite as their justification for spying on innocent Americans on a daily basis).

Supreme Court Victory!
The Supreme Court has ruled that companies should not be able to patent human genes. This decision was unanimous and is a great victory for the ACLU, which had been working on this case for four years.

The case involved two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that were previously controlled by a company named Myriad Genetics. The testing of these genes is crucial in assessing people’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer (remember Angelina Jolie's op-ed?). However, when Myriad had a monopoly on the genes, it was able to limit the types and availability of testing offered, and set the price on these life-saving procedures.

The ruling should also impact many other gene patents, help further our understanding of disease treatment and prevention, and keep our DNA free from business ownership and manipulation.