Flex founder Steve Silverman discusses our work with Reason’s Tim Cavanaugh:
I recently moved to Los Angeles with my girlfriend, and my parents visited this weekend. Over dinner we discussed the California Supreme Court ruling which held that police officers don’t need a warrant to lawfully search mobile phones of arrestees.
All four of us own a smartphone, but I was the only one who
encrypted password protected mine. So I obnoxiously brandished my Android device to demonstrate how easy it is to swipe a simple pattern to turn the phone on.
My girlfriend, a UCLA MBA candidate, scoffed that it was inefficient and not worth her time. But I countered that the split-second motion quickly becomes effortless. On the other end, my parents thought they had nothing to hide. (Have I taught these people nothing!?)
For the more cynical among us, Ryan Radia at the Ars Technica blog presents a thorough analysis of the relevant court cases impacting your smartphone privacy rights. He also lays out simple strategies that can protect your mobile device from police searches, even if you’re under arrest.
His tips should be common sense to Flex Your Rights fans.
Kentucky police were following a man who had just sold drugs to an undercover informant. They entered an apartment breezeway, heard a door slam and found they had two choices.
Behind door No. 1 was the dealer. And, unfortunately for him, behind door No. 2 were Hollis King and friends, smoking marijuana.
Smelling the drug, the officers banged loudly on King’s apartment door and identified themselves as police. The officers said they heard a noise and feared evidence was being destroyed. They kicked down the door and found King, two friends, some drugs and cash. [Washington Post]
Home searches generally require a warrant, even when probable cause exists (the smell of marijuana), but officers claimed their fear that evidence would be destroyed constituted an "exigent circumstances" exception to the warrant requirement. Ironically, however, the presence of police became known to the suspects only because the officers knocked and announced themselves. If any effort was made to dispose of evidence, it was obviously triggered by the police, who could have waited for a warrant rather than initiating contact right then and there.
If the Supreme Court upholds this search, police will be encouraged to creatively interpret any noises heard within homes they’d like to search, and it’s hard to imagine what sorts of sounds couldn’t potentially be said to indicate possible destruction of evidence. Police who hear "sudden movements" after pounding on someone’s door can claim to be concerned about destruction of evidence, but who wouldn’t make a sudden movement if cops were shouting and banging on the door? Maybe I’m just putting on some pants. Maybe I’m hastily locking my dog in the bathroom so they won’t shoot its brains out. People are going to react when disturbed in their homes and it’s absurd to strip our 4th Amendment rights based on one of many possible explanations for the movements people make when you startle them.
Keep in mind, however, that this case involved a probable cause situation in which police did smell marijuana. Even the worst possible ruling still wouldn’t give police the authority to randomly knock on doors with no evidence and perform emergency searches based on suspicious reactions from the people inside. But if the Court continues chipping away at the 4th Amendment at its current pace, I can’t blame anyone for worrying that we’re headed in that direction. Fortunately, some of the justices expressed serious concerns about giving police more leeway to perform emergency searches. This one could go either way and we’ll be sure to keep you posted.
More than two years after plans were first announced, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has finally implemented a program of random bag inspections. At unannounced checkpoints, riders will be selected at random and asked to submit to chemical analysis of any packages they are carrying. Any bags testing positive for explosive materials will be searched. Riders who are chosen for inspection may decline, but will not be permitted to enter the station with their bags.
This is essentially a modified version of a proposed program that stalled in October ’08 due to widespread outrage over the obvious civil liberties violations involved in carrying out suspicionless searches on public transit. Flex Your Rights played a leading role in opposing the program by organizing public protests and distributing informational flyers about how to refuse Metro searches. Our efforts generated significant media coverage, and even provoked frivolous legal threats from Metro itself, which the ACLU of the National Capital Area successfully rebutted.
As the months passed by without any searches, we came to believe that our campaign had been a success and that public opposition had, for once, succeeded in shutting down a shameful assault on our 4th Amendment rights. Sadly, it’s now clear that the program’s proponents were merely regrouping and revising their plans after meeting with an unexpected level of opposition.
This is the first holiday season since the release of 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. So if you’ve got friends and family who haven’t seen it yet, now’s a perfect time to make sure they do.
To ensure that your DVDs arrive in time for Christmas, please order by this Friday the 17th. (If you want to send a gift DVD to someone else, simply enter a separate shipping address.)
Your order not only helps your loved ones protect their constitutional rights — it makes it possible for Flex Your Rights to continue our public education work. 10 Rules has earned major media hits and created new partnerships that allow us to educate more people than ever before. Our YouTube page, for example, has reached 8 million views!
As a small organization with a modest operating budget, your support really goes a long way towards making our work possible. So please click here to place a DVD order or to make a small or large tax-deductible donation. You may also send a check donation (made out to Flex Your Rights) to P.O. Box 21497, Washington, DC 20009.
Thanks to you, 2010 has been Flex Your Rights’ best year yet! I think you’ll love what we’ve got in store for 2011.
In case you haven’t seen it yet, Flex board of advisors member and LEAP Executive Director Neill Franklin had a terrific piece in the Huffington Post last week discussing the proper way to handle police encounters.
Here are some choice bits.
What few people understand, but police know all too well, is that your constitutional rights only apply if you understand and assert them. Unless they have strong evidence (i.e. probable cause) police need your permission to search your belongings or enter your home. The instant you grant them permission to invade your privacy, many of your legal protections go out the window and you’re left on the hook for anything illegal the police find, as well as any damage they cause in the process.
Of course, even if you know your basic rights, police officers are trained to shake your confidence. If you refuse a search, I might respond by threatening to call in a drug-sniffing dog and sternly reminding you that things will go much easier if you cooperate. Creating a sense of hopelessness for the suspect enables us to break down their defenses and gain compliance. In the film, we show several variations on these common threats, but the main lesson is that it doesn’t matter what the officer says; you still have to remain calm and protect your rights.
Luckily for us, Neill’s article became a big hit around the web, bringing in a flood of orders and emails from folks who hadn’t heard about Flex Your Rights before.
That’s what one student said after attending a screening of 10 Rules for Dealing With Police at West Virginia University. After another showing at Quinipac University in Connecticut, a student commented that, "I didn’t think I had the right to refuse." We hear that reaction all the time, and that’s why know-your-rights events like these are so important.
It’s been less than a year since we released 10 Rules for Dealing With Police, so this Fall semester has been our first opportunity to really begin debuting the film on college campuses. Groups like Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Students for Liberty have done an amazing job putting together events across the country, and we’ve recently partnered with NAACP, which should create lots of great opportunities as well.
Of course, you don’t have to be a student, or a lawyer, or an experienced activist to help educate your friends and family about how to deal with police. We’ve put together a helpful guide for anyone who wants to organize a know-your-rights event in their community. It’s easier than you think, and just one event can empower dozens, even hundreds, of people to protect their rights during police encounters.
In our last alert I mentioned that Columbia, MO police Chief Ken Burton has been using 10 Rules for Dealing with Police to educate the public about constitutional rights.
I also recently participated in an NPR affiliate interview with Chief Burton and policing expert David A. Harris. It’s an in-depth look at problems in modern policing — including some great discussion of SWAT raids, police accountability, racial profiling, and the importance of know-your-rights education.
We’ve come a long way since our first video was released on VHS tape. What began as an effort to educate activists is now influencing entire police departments to be mindful of citizens’ constitutional rights.
That’s how Crawford County State’s Attorney Tom Wiseman justifies his decision to bring five felony charges against an Illinois man who recorded an encounter with police officers. As the debate over the right to record police heats up, I’ve often found myself wondering how on earth anyone in law-enforcement could justify arresting citizens simply for recording video of a public encounter.
Alas, this piece by Radley Balko answers my question and it isn’t pretty. Imagine my surprise to find the same folks who coined the phrase, "If you’ve got nothing to hide, then what are you worried about?" suddenly claiming a right to privacy after videos of police misconduct began springing up all over the web.