Blog & Op-Eds, Blog, Open Government

Attention Northern Virginians: Is law enforcement spying on you?

(03/21/2014) In January, the Washington Post published a shocking story – despite a clear Virginia Attorney General opinion to the contrary, a number of northern Virginia law enforcement agencies decided that they have the authority to compile massive databases of license plate records of ordinary Virginians. read more »

Why Mandating Law Enforcement in Every Virginia School is a Bad Idea

(01/22/2014) Earlier today, the House Education Committee’s Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee considered a bill that would mandate the deployment of a school resource officer (SRO) in every Virginia elementary and secondary school, removing local school leaders’ ability to make their own decisions about how best to ensure safety. read more »

ACLU, ACLU-VA Board Member tell the Fourth Circuit: Apply the First Amendment, Unmask “Company Doe”

(11/01/2013) From October 2011 to October 2012, something very unusual happened in a federal court. A case was filed, litigated, and decided entirely in secret: secret facts, secret evidence, secret arguments, even a secret plaintiff. read more »

Who’s Asking? When it Comes to Public Records, It Shouldn’t Matter

(02/19/2013) Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in McBurney v. Young, a case that addresses an important question about the transparency of Virginia’s state and local government: Can Virginia restrict access to its public records to Virginia citizens? Or must it make those records available to everyone? read more »

Light a Candle in Florida and Curse the Darkness in Virginia

(04/05/2012) The ongoing investigation into the killing of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, has not only raised questions -- yet again -- about racial discrimination in our criminal justice system, but it also calls attention to the issue of police transparency. read more »

Smile, You’re [the Police] on Candid Camera

(07/15/2011) The availability of inexpensive digital cameras and cell phones with video capabilities in recent years has not only made it easy to record one’s friends, it has also made it easier for citizens and watchdog groups to videotape law enforcement officers in the performance of their duties. The result is an increased number of reported confrontations between police officers and citizens over whether the officers can be videotaped while doing their jobs. read more »

Honoring Courage Seven Years after Abu Ghraib

(04/28/2011) To mark the seventh anniversary of the publication of photographs that exposed torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, the New York Times published an ACLU/PEN American Center op-ed today honoring those who stood up against the torture policies of the Bush administration. In the introduction, Jameel Jaffer and Larry Siems write about Sergeant Joe Darby, as well as the many other Americans, known and unknown, who stood up against the Bush administration’s torture policies read more »

Audacity Meets Opacity at VCU

(11/26/2010) Deeply ingrained in our culture is the notion that public figures put themselves up for public scrutiny. It comes with the territory because in this country the same people who decided to tell King George III where to go and fought a war to send him there were also the people who laid out our constitutional principles. It’s a given: If you run for public office or accept public employment, then taxpayers have a right to tell you what they think of you, and you have an obligation to be transparent about what you do. read more »

On Foxes, Henhouses and Police Accountability

(8/26/2010) Elected officials think they know everything. Government agencies know they know everything. And we, the people, deserve to know nothing. That’s the way it goes in Virginia, and the latest example of this behavior is particularly galling. Last week, a subcommittee of the Virginia Freedom of Information Council met to discuss a straight forward bill to allow the public access to information about police investigations once they have been closed. The result, per Virginia’s closed door traditions, was a bit of the same old, same old. read more »

Let the Sunshine in…on the Government

This is Sunshine Week, when we’re supposed to celebrate how accessible our government is to the press, which wants to report on it, and to the average Joe, who just wants to know what’s going on. While most sunshine laws – often referred to as FOIA, for Freedom of Information Act – aren’t bad, keep in mind that they were designed by the enemy to be deployed on the enemy’s battlefield. read more »