NYPD Pays $18M to Settle 2004 RNC Protest Arrests

I grew up with a grandfather who was a retired police captain. Needless to say, respect for police officers was a highlight of my upbringing, and until I moved away from the small town in which I grew up, I never understood why people would feel uncomfortable in the presence of law enforcement.

RNC Protests in Union Square, 2004.  Cell phone camera quality wasn't quite what it is today. :)

RNC Protests in Union Square, 2004. Cell phone camera quality wasn’t quite what it is today. :)

In the summer of 2004, I went to some protests in Union Square, a small park in lower Manhattan near where I was living where political speech was (and still is) a mainstay. I didn’t go to protest — if anything, my 20-year-old self thought it would be more entertaining to watch the crazy hippies, liberals, and even communists ranting on a megaphone about how much they hate George W. Bush. It was, in fact, the first time I met someone who would openly and happily proclaim they were a communist. All very strange to me at the time.

The protesters would be out there almost daily, and I’d probably see them a few times a week. Once in a while, a few cops would come and confiscate a megaphone. You see, use of a “sound amplification device” without a permit is against the law in New York City, and I’ll let you guess who issues the permits. But, everything was always peaceful, and the protesters would continue with just their voices and would collect donations to go buy a new megaphone, which they invariably did, sometimes same day.

The peaceful atmosphere ended as the Republican National Committee’s conference began. There weren’t really that many more protesters than usual in Union Square, but the police presence rapidly grew. Eventually, a few dozen officers lined up and began arresting the people who were speaking. People were thrown to the ground, injured, as they resisted being arrested for doing nothing more than speaking. These protesters were doing nothing that they hadn’t been doing there for the months (really, years) prior, but with the RNC in town, the order was out: protesters go to jail. As they took away the organizers, a friend of mine yelled at the police to stop, at which point they grabbed her and took her away too. My friend, a 20-year-old slender young woman from upstate Privilegeville, NY, was charged with “jumping on an officer’s back.”

At least 2 video cameras captured the incident showing that she did no such thing, and 4 witnesses, including myself, came forward to say that the charge was fabricated. The DA’s office, however, was instructed to prosecute all protesters no matter what, and they took the matter to trial, forcing this girl to endure the possibility of a 1 year prison sentence for doing nothing more than yelling at a cop. Thankfully, a jury deliberated for about 20 minutes before returning a unanimous “not guilty” verdict.

The city fought against over 400 individual lawsuits, plus one class-action lawsuit with another 1,200 victims, by protesters who were arrested and beat their charges (or were never charged). Think about that for a second: during a few weeks of a convention, the city wrongfully arrested over 1,600 people. It took 10 years, but they have finally been given justice: an $18 million settlement has been reached.

The incidents during the RNC cost the city (really, the taxpayers) a huge sum of money. But it also cost them my respect. It’s a sad day when you learn that your government really isn’t there to protect you.

Federal Judge: No-Fly List Violates Due Process (Updated)

Today is a good day in the courts: a federal judge in California has ruled in favor of Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim, the college professor who once left the country to go to a conference and, when she tried to come back, found out her visa was revoked and she was on the no-fly list.

For those not yet familiar, the no-fly list has, until now, been a tool to deprive the people of their rights without due process under the law. To get on the no-fly list, one is “nominated” by a fed in one of a handful of agencies, that nomination is processed by the FBI, and you’re on the list. Once you’re on the list, they won’t tell you you’re on the list — you just can’t get a boarding pass, ever. You’re (obviously) never told why you’re on the list, and never given a chance to challenge it. The government offers a form to fill out to request a review if you think you’re on the list, but there’s no process by which it is reviewed (that is, your form is basically memory-holed).

No judge is ever involved, and even for Dr. Ibrahim, the government fought every step of the way to avoid having a court even consider the matter (much like how my case against the TSA’s nude body scanners was delayed for 2 years while the government argued that a federal district court could not touch the issue). The government argued that questioning the no-fly list would reveal “state secrets” — information so sensitive that the executive branch has the right to withhold it even from closed-door review by a federal judge. So much for “the most transparent administration ever,” eh?

Nothing underscores the absurdity more than the fact that U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s ruling, save for the fact that it was in Dr. Ibrahim’s favor, has been sealed pending appeal. That is, the government argued that a ruling that the no-fly list is illegal would release classified information.

Thanks to Judge Alsup’s refusal to be bullied, this absurd practice comes to an end — pending review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Update: Judge Alsup has released a public summary of his ruling, explaining that the government made a mistake by adding Dr. Ibrahim to the list and must correct that mistake.

Fully Briefed: Can TSA Read Your Documents, Threaten False Arrest, Lie About Checkpoint Video?

In August 2011, a TSA supervisor detained me for an hour, threatened me with forcible search and (false) arrest, read through my documents, and, ultimately, ejected me from the airport… all because I wouldn’t let a TSA screener “touch my junk.” Afterwards, I asked for CCTV video of the incident under FOIA, and was lied to about its existence. I filed suit, and last year, a federal judge dismissed that lawsuit, arguing that all of the above was either legal, or that the TSA manager had immunity from damages.

The issue is now fully briefed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. A three judge panel will now decide whether there is truly no recourse when someone so egregiously violates your rights (assuming we still have those). Although “fully briefed” means that all parties have said their peace in writing, the TSA has taken the unusual step of requesting oral arguments. I assume this means they are unsure of their case, and it’s a good sign.

Corbett v. TSA – Appellant’s Opening Brief

Corbett v. TSA – Appellee’s Brief (Federal Defendants)
Corbett v. TSA – Appellee’s Brief (Broward County)
Corbett v. TSA – Appellee’s Brief (Broward Sheriff’s Office)

Corbett v. TSA – Appellant’s Reply Brief

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court: Blind, Deaf, Dumb

As you may recall from the very first of the Snowden leaks, every three months for many years, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has been authorizing the bulk phone data collection — a list of every phone call you and everyone else in America has ever made, to be kept in a government database — by the NSA. Yesterday, the FISC issued yet another 3 month authorization to do the same.

A federal judge has now opined that this program is illegal. The author of the Patriot Act himself says the program is illegal. The people have made clear that this program is unacceptable and failing to meet any popular definition of “reasonable” (you know, the kind of reasonable the Fourth Amendment requires). But the FISC keeps on giving.

Last Summer, I mailed the FISC hundreds of motions to reverse their order to collect our personal information, on behalf of people who submitted paperwork at MyNSARecords. Each and every one of these motions was ignored. Not even denied with a pleasant letter, but completely ignored.

It’s as if this court is blind, deaf, and dumb. But what should we expect from a secret court that issues secret laws?

Judge William H. Pauley III Is An Asshole

Crotchety old man and federal judge William H. Pauley III ruled today, out of his ivory tower at 500 Pearl Street, that NSA phone spying is lawful. As if he were a hired spokeshole for the government, he concluded that “Telephony metadata would have furnished the missing information and might have permitted the N.S.A. to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the fact that al-Mihdhar was calling the Yemeni safe house from inside the United States” — in other words, that NSA spying may have prevented 9/11.

Of course, we all know that the spying program would have had no chance at preventing 9/11, since we already knew that these guys were terrorists. It was not due to lack of information that 9/11 was a successful day for the Al Qaeda crew, but rather because we failed to actually do anything with the information we had — perhaps because we already had so much information that it became possible to act upon. You see, when you have four Libraries of Congresses worth of data being ingested every day (back in 2011!), you can’t possibly do anything useful with that data proactively. All you do is flood your investigators with a flow of information that dilutes the useful intelligence gleaned through more narrow (and lawful) means.

The ruling is not surprising to me, because I sat before Judge Pauley in a 2008 civil case, Twelve Inches Around Corp. v. Cisco Systems, Inc. The Plaintiff was one of my startups, and the case was asking for damages after Cisco, who didn’t like my business idea, got my company’s Web site shut down by filing a false trademark infringement notice with my Web host (we ended up settling before trial). During pre-trial hearings, Judge Pauley, quite simply, seemed upset that he should have to waste his time on the case, and displayed a level of interest, patience, and cool-headedness below that of any other federal judge whom I’ve had the pleasure of appearing before. That Judge Pauley failed to grasp the severity of the intrusion on our privacy is entirely expected. He is, quite simply, an asshole.

Luckily, a couple weeks ago a few hundred miles south in a small town called D.C., a judge ruled the exact opposite of Mr. Grumpypants here in New York, increasing the odds that we shall see a resolution of the conflicting opinions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Quick “Thank You!” To My Bitcoin Donors

Most of the donors, who generously support my work against intrusive government agencies, do so by PayPal, which allows me to send a “thank you” for funds received. But, the beauty of Bitcoin is that it is anonymous, so I have no idea who these supporters are unless they have also contacted me by e-mail. So to you, anonymous donors, thank you so much!

My “‘Change We Can Believe In’ Donation Drive” (where I will be paying the NYPD $820.15 in court fees with loose change) has been a huge success so far, and the NYPD will be receiving a care package around Christmas. :) If you’d still like to help…

  • Coins: Mail to Jonathan Corbett, 228 Park Ave. S. #86952, New York, NY 10003
  • PayPal: Donate here!
  • Bitcoin: 15ftA2938sp7Mnsi8U7wYVmEtd4BRbFnkT
  • Check: Make out to Jonathan Corbett and mail to the address above

This is my coin collection so far (a little under $400… about half way there!)…

Coins

Fun fact: The U.S. mint no longer circulates half-dollars! They still print them and sell them at a small markup to collectors, so I’ve purchased a few of them to sprinkle in. :D

Eleventh Circuit Orders Oral Arguments in Case Against Scanners

I received a call just now from a pleasant sounding woman in the clerk’s office of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. She informed me that oral arguments have been scheduled for June 4th, 2014, at 10:00 PM in the court’s Miami building for my case against the TSA’s nude body scanners and invasive pat-downs.

What does this mean?

Oral arguments are discretionary and not given as a general rule. The fact that they granted them means that they are taking the case seriously and have questions they would like to ask. This is a good thing — it means they have decided not to simply brush my case aside. Both parties will have an additional chance to speak beyond the written briefs, which is decidedly advantageous to me because many of the government’s arguments are difficult to make with a straight face. It’s one thing to talk around the issues when you have weeks to figure out how to phrase things; it’s another when you have a panel of federal judges asking tough questions in person.

The only downside is this means we will have no ruling until, likely, at least July. So, for now, continue to opt out of those scans!


Donate to support the last remaining lawsuit against TSA body scanners!
PayPal or Bitcoin: 15ftA2938sp7Mnsi8U7wYVmEtd4BRbFnkT

Temporary Restraining Order Granted (but Stayed) Against NSA Phone Spying!

A bit of good news: a federal judge has ruled that the NSA’s blanket phone spying operation is “likely unconstitutional” and has granted a temporary restraining order against it, which he immediately stayed pending appeal. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon blasted the NSA in his 68 page ruling, noting that he “cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen.”

It’s about time. Let’s see what the D.C. Circuit has to say…

“Change We Can Believe In” Donation Drive

ChangeIn October, I posted that I wouldn’t be pursuing an appeal in my case against stop and frisk, which was dismissed on the theory that I couldn’t prove that the 4 plainclothes cops who stopped and frisked me were actually real police officers (they might have been, you know, just ordinary citizens playing a game!). I think the ruling was wrong, but I felt that I couldn’t effectively pursue that appeal in addition to the two actions I have against the TSA, which are more important to me, especially in light of the advances against stop and frisk made by others this year. Each of these cases I take on generate hundreds of pages of complex legal documents, monetary costs, and stress — all totally worth it, by the way.

As a result, the NYPD asked for, and received, a judgment for their costs in arguing the absurd, over my objections and despite their request for costs being after the deadline set by federal rules. They don’t get attorney’s fees, but court reporting fees, copies, etc., resulted in a bill for $820.15.

I’d like to send them this $820.15 in coins, and I’d like your help! If you have a coin jar that you’ve been filling and would like to use it to make a statement, mail it my way. The USPS Small Flat Rate Box would fit well over $100 in coins and costs $5.80 — potentially less than CoinStar would charge you to count them (no worries, I have access to a free coin counter). If you don’t have coins sitting around, I’d be happy to turn your PayPal, Bitcoin, or check donation into pennies, nickles, dimes, and quarters on your behalf. Here’s how:

  • Coins: Mail to Jonathan Corbett, 228 Park Ave. S. #86952, New York, NY 10003
  • PayPal: Donate here!
  • Bitcoin: 15ftA2938sp7Mnsi8U7wYVmEtd4BRbFnkT
  • Check: Make out to Jonathan Corbett and mail to the address above

Once I get the coins together, I shall assemble them into a sculpture that expresses my feelings towards the NYPD and send it their way. I’ll, of course, post a picture. This, my friends, is change that we can believe in! :-D Thank you in advance for your support and for helping me to not only continue to fight against abusive governments in court, but also to help me make this special message to the NYPD.

Judge in CA: If Secret Information Is Published, It Is Public

If you’ve been following my recent Orwellian saga where the government accidentally published one of my sealed briefs, exposing information embarrassing to the TSA to the public, and then demanded that I stop talking about it despite it having been published to millions, there is some good news out in California.

A federal judge for the Northern District of California was confronted with a similar question in another case you may have heard about: Ibrahim v. DHS — the foreign-born professor who left the U.S. for a few weeks to be never allowed back because she was erroneously placed on the no-fly list (which apparently causes your visa to be revoked). The government in that case was demanding that Sensitive Security Information — the D.H.S. monicker for “stuff it wants to keep secret” — be prohibited from disclosure in open court, even if that SSI was gleaned from a public source. U.S. District Judge William H. Alsup firmly and unambiguously rejected that argument in a ruling delivered orally on Monday:

[I]f the government was contending that the ABC list and its very existence was secret and should be SSI, and the plaintiff was able to prove and wanted to try to prove that there was such a list and could do it from independent sources, the government cannot clamp that down and say: No, you can’t even mention it because that’s SSI, if there is an independent public source for that information.

So in my view, the plaintiff has the right to try to prove its case. And if it can prove its case entirely through publicly available information, even if the same — the same information is within the government designated as SSI, the plaintiff can still use that publicly available evidence if it’s admissible.

Let’s hope the court in my case decides the same. I’ve sent them a copy of Judge Alsup’s ruling to help them. :-D

Excerpt from Ibrahim v. DHS Ruling Re: SSI

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