Archive for the 'Privacy Rights' Category

Report: Protecting the Rights of Floridians in the Rick Scott Era

The ACLU of Florida has just issued a report entitled, “Protecting the Rights of Floridians in the Rick Scott Era: A Two-Year Report on Combatting Assaults by the Legislature and the Administration of Gov. Rick Scott on Civil Liberties,” which illustrates the work the ACLU and other organizations have undertaken to defend civil rights in Florida over  the last two years.

“In order to defend the rights of Floridians from their own state government, the ACLU of Florida was involved in nine lawsuits challenging Gov. Scott’s policies and legislative attacks on civil liberties[.]”

Among the issues listed in the report were:

  • the right to vote,
  • the right to be free from unreasonable searches,
  • religious freedom and the separation of church and state,
  • women’s rights and reproductive freedom,
  • an independent judiciary, and
  • freedom of speech.

The report was released at the halfway point of Governor Rick Scott’s term and before the new session of the Florida legislature gets under way.

“With the 2012 elections behind us and the 2014 gubernatorial election  already effectively begun,  it appears that the Governor is attempting to moderate his views to make them palatable,” said ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon.

“But no public relations campaign can paper over the picture described in our report,” continued Simon, “that for the last two years, whether it has been the right to vote, freedom from unreasonable searches by government officials, women’s rights, the protection of personal privacy, religious freedom or freedom of speech, the ACLU has had to protect Floridians from a wide-ranging assault on their rights by their own Legislature and Governor.”

Download the report. (PDF)


July 10 Webinar on the RNC in Tampa

First Amendment BullhornBaylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida

In just over two months, our state will be at the center of global attention, as thousands of journalists, political activists, and protesters descend on Tampa for the 2012 Republican National Convention. How will policies and laws put into place for the Convention impact the rights of the reporters, demonstrators, and the citizens of Florida? And what can we do to ensure that our First Amendment rights and other freedoms are being upheld?

Join us online on Tuesday, July 10 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. for a free know-your-rights webinar, 2012 RNC in Tampa: What You Need to Know. We’ll discuss the rights of demonstrators and photographers, the permitting process and other rules and restrictions passed for the event, and take questions from the webinar attendees on how you can stand up for your rights.

The webinar will feature speakers from the ACLU of Florida, the Public Defender’s Office, as well as Tampa City Attorney James Shimberg, and Tampa Police Department Chief Jane Castor and Assistant Chief John Bennett.

Register for the webinar today to reserve your spot. You will receive an email with log-in information after you have registered. For additional questions or comments, contact our Mid-Florida Regional Director Joyce Hamilton Henry at

UPDATE 7/10: Excitement for the webinar has exceeded our expectations! So many people have registered to learn to protect their rights that we may exceed the capacity for the webinar. If you have registered, try to log in early to ensure your spot in the webinar. If the webinar is full when you attempt to log in, keep trying, or follow us on Twitter as we livetweet the event at @ACLUFL, and download the PowerPoint (approx. 3MB) here.

Report Card in Apopka

By Derek Newton
Communications Director

Apopka is a small community outside Orlando that is on the verge of being consumed by Central Florida sprawl and suburban planning but its agrarian roots and the impact of the Hispanic community are easy to see.

ACLU Policy and Advocacy Counsel Julie Ebenstein addresses the media in Apopka, FL on May 23, 2012

A stone’s throw from Apopka High School is the HOPE CommUnity Center which, “is dedicated to empowerment of Central Florida’s immigrant and working poor communities through Education, Advocacy and Spiritual Growth.”

As a landmark for immigrant families, it was a perfect setting for yesterday’s ACLU of Florida press conference at which we issued a report card on the unsettling practice of school districts not making clear that Social Security numbers (SSN) are not required for enrollment in public schools. In spite of federal law requiring it, many school districts, including several in Central Florida, are still asking for SSN on enrollment forms without stating the information is voluntary.

The result is that immigrant families may have to choose between sending kids to school and what they think could be in inquiry into the citizenship status of those children or other family members.

 It’s would be a tragic choice especially considering no such choice is necessary. Since schools don’t need a SSN to enroll, there is no reason to put parents and families through that difficulty.

After surveying all 67 Florida districts, the ACLU found nearly half of those districts – 30 in all – received a grade of “C” or lower in how they ask for and handle SSN on enrollment forms. Eleven districts, including a handful in Central Florida, failed outright by making no effort whatsoever to comply with federal law on the use of SSN.  

Based on our report card and press conference, several districts including Orange County (which received an “F”), said they would re-examine their enrollment form for next school year.

The Not-So-Lonely Life of an ACLU Attorney

Maria Kayanan
Associate Legal Director, ACLU of Florida

Some days, it can be lonely being an ACLU lawyer.  That’s particularly true in Florida, where we’ve been challenging a slew of laws that violate Floridians’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Tallahassee has become the “Pee” capital of the nation, requiring applicants for temporary government aid, and state employees, to prove that their urine is drug-free. The laws are popular among some legislators because they don’t “get” that government is held by the Constitution to a higher standard in protecting citizens’ privacy, and that demonizing the financially needy and state workers by treating them like suspected criminals is not only wrong, it’s against the law.

After Florida appealed U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven’s Preliminary Injunction that halted Florida’s dastardly scheme to drug test applicants for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), four states joined as Amici, or “friends of the court,” to support Florida’s appeal:  Michigan (where a similar statutory scheme was declared unconstitutional over a decade ago), Alabama, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

But Luis Lebron, our client in the TANF suit, also has friends in many places, including in Alabama and Michigan!

Today, under the stewardship of Richard Rosenthal, a Miami appellate lawyer, the National Association of Social Workers, the Center for Law and Social Policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Michigan League for Human Services, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and Alabama Arise filed an amicus brief in support of Luis Lebron.

Also filing “friend of the court” briefs on behalf of Luis Lebron are Florida’s Children First and Disability Rights Florida. Also, to be filed later this evening, a brief on behalf of a huge coalition of organizations: the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy, the Legal Action Center, Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, National Employment Law Project, Child Welfare Organizing Project, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and the Drug Policy Alliance, authored by David Goldberg of Donahue and Goldberg in New York City.

So today, it’s not so lonely being an ACLU lawyer, even in Florida. We have advocates from across the country standing with us, and we’re grateful to all of them for joining the appeal in the Eleventh Circuit.

Cartoon: Rick Scott, the Constitution and Drug Testing

Derek Newton
Communications Director, ACLU of Florida

 (Cartoon by Bill Sanders of Sanders cartoon-commentary)

This cartoon helps capture the struggle between Governor Scott and the state of Florida and the ACLU of Florida over drug testing.

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from being subjected to a government search without reasonable suspicion. It’s one of the core tenets of our justice system.

That’s why the ACLU of Florida has fought so hard to stop the suspicionless drug testing of Floridians being pushed by Governor Scott and the Legislature. In the past year they have passed laws and issued orders that would subject tens of thousands of Floridians to government drug testing.

In late 2011, the ACLU of Florida represented Orlando resident Luis Lebron in a challenge to the state law requiring testing for applications for temporary assistance. Lebron, a Navy veteran, single father, caretaker of his disabled mother, and full-time University of Central Florida, succeeded in getting the law blocked by a federal court in Orlando. Governor Scott has appealed the decision.

Just two weeks ago, the ACLU of Florida went to federal court in Miami on behalf of AFSCME – the state’s largest public employee union – to challenge the Governor’s order requiring suspicionless testing for state workers under his authority. A decision in that challenge is expected at any time.

And in the final days of this Legislative Session, lawmakers are considering yet another attempt to force government drug testing on state workers.

When Floridians are subjected to invasive, stigmatizing government searches, the ACLU of Florida will stand up to protect the rights of people like Luis Lebron, state workers, and everyone else subjected to these unconstitutional policies.

Florida is Crazy (About Drug Testing)

Maria Kayanan
Associate Legal Director, ACLU of Florida

There’s trouble in Tallahassee. That’s Tallahassee with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for “Pee in a cup.”

It’s true — Tallahassee’s gone crazy over drug testing.

While a federal judge in Miami mulls over the constitutionality of Gov. Scott’s 2011 Executive Order subjecting all applicants to and employees of agencies within the Governor’s purview to suspicionless drug testing, both chambers of the Florida Legislature are poised to pass sweeping legislation that actually expands drug testing even more broadly.

The bill “debated” in the Florida Senate today (I use that term loosely, because there was no real debate as the bill was rushed through the committee) would allow all agencies to impose random drug testing of all employees and require all job applicants to state agencies to be tested. The legislature can’t wait until our challenge to the Governor’s order is decided before it goes all-out and requires random testing of all state employees and job applicants.

Why this frenzy over drug testing? Is it something in the water? There’s no evidence of reefer madness in capitol elevators; nobody’s cooking meth in the cafeteria.

One answer may lie in who’s lobbying for the bill. It’s no secret that Gov. Scott has a missionary-like zeal for collecting and examining the urine of poor people and State workers; lawyers from his office have been bending the ears of skeptical legislators, but have shied away from defending their legal analysis at the committee hearings themselves.

The State doesn’t get it: state agencies are not private employers. The U.S. Constitution sets the bounds for what government can legally demand of its employees – not the Governor or the Legislature. And it can’t demand their urine without reasonable suspicion that the employee is using or abusing drugs, or holds a safety-sensitive position. We’re not making that up: it’s the law of the land, as spoken by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Tallahassee doesn’t care. It doesn’t care about the Fourth Amendment; it doesn’t care that taxpayers keeping paying for expensive litigation required only to learn the same civics lesson; and it sure doesn’t care about casting a net of suspicion around the hard-working men and women who do the State’s work.

Defending State Employees Against Suspicionless Drug Testing

Shalini Goel Agarwal
Staff Attorney, ACLU of Florida 

Yesterday,  it was a privilege to present arguments to Judge Ursula Ungaro of the federal district court in the Southern District of Florida about the unconstitutionality of Executive Order 11-58, an order by the Governor requiring mandatory suspicionless drug testing of all employees in and applicants to state agencies under his supervision.

I pointed out that under a long line of Supreme Court cases, suspicionless urinalysis by the government of its employees violates the Fourth Amendment, unless the employee’s job is safety-sensitive.  Safety-sensitive jobs include, for example, railroad workers involved in major accidents and customs officers who carry guns or interdict drugs.  They do not include government accountants, long-range planners at the Department of Juvenile Justice, and candidates vying to become Governor.

Because the notion that suspicionless drug testing of government employees must be limited to safety-sensitive jobs is so clear in the law, I don’t know of any other governmental entity that has even tried to institute a drug testing policy as broad as the Governor’s.  And certainly no court has ever upheld this type of blanket drug testing policy targeting all employees and applicants.

I also pointed out that under the Drug-Free Workplace Act the Governor has had the power for over twenty years to drug test those reasonably suspected of drug use and those in safety-sensitive positions.  There is no reason to think that this type of testing could not address the Governor’s concerns, particularly given that, prior to the Governor’s executive order, over 99% of applicants and employees tested were drug-free.

We look forward to Judge Ungaro’s ruling on this important constitutional issue.