Building the future of freedom on Beacon Hill
Blog by Gavi Wolfe, legislative director at the ACLU of Massachusetts
Looking to 2019, states will continue to be critical battlegrounds in the fight against authoritarianism – and Massachusetts will be on the forefront. In the face of unprecedented challenges from the federal government, Massachusetts must exercise leadership to shape the future of freedom for our generation and those to come.
This legislative session, the ACLU of Massachusetts – together with our supporters, volunteers, and community partners – are setting out to reaffirm our democratic values and ensure civil liberties are not lost on our watch.
Here are just a few of our plans to build the future of freedom this session:
Technology & Civil Liberties
Biometric surveillance technologies – tools that track us based on our faces, voices, and even the way we walk – are being developed in the private sector and quickly attracting enthusiastic attention from law enforcement. If turned over to the government without proper civil liberties protections, these technologies will give government dystopian control over all of us.
The ACLU has a plan to ensure privacy protections keep pace with advancing technologies: It starts with hitting pause on unregulated government use of biometric recognition technologies. We’re calling on the Massachusetts legislature to enact a moratorium until the state adopts key protections for civil rights, due process, and racial justice.
At the same time, Beacon Hill must strengthen existing data breach laws to guard against misuse of biometric information. High-profile data breaches show the urgent need to protect sensitive data. Our faces, voices, and fingerprints should be protected just like our social security numbers.
Massachusetts is ideally situated to lead the way on responsible integration of machine learning technologies and other tools that impact people every day. As our government begins to turn to technology and big data to make determinations about everything from incarceration to parental rights, it’s time to convene a legislative commission of experts to study how Massachusetts can lead the nation in ensuring algorithmic fairness, transparency, and accountability.
Treatment, Not Imprisonment
In the midst of an opioid crisis that has claimed an increasing number of lives in Massachusetts and across the nation, public officials must do everything they can to support people in their efforts to overcome addiction. If our Commonwealth is serious about ending the opioid crisis, we need to reframe our approach to drug use – to one that is rooted in public health, not punishment.
That’s why, this legislative session, the ACLU of Massachusetts is prioritizing legislation that moves the state away from imprisoning people simply because they stumble on their road to recovery. When a person suffering from addiction is released by a court, it is both unsafe and unjust to require them to remain completely drug-free or else be sent to jail.
Last legislative session, with major advocacy by the ACLU, the legislature passed sweeping criminal justice reform. There’s a tremendous amount to celebrate about the new law, from sentencing reforms to critical protections for people incarcerated in Massachusetts.
This session, the ACLU of Massachusetts is building on that landmark accomplishment by advocating for greater criminal justice transparency, with legislation to ensure district attorneys participate in existing data collection and reporting. A comprehensive picture of the criminal legal system – including prosecutors’ charging and diversion data – will better inform future policy-making in Massachusetts.
Going forward, Beacon Hill must also set new standards about when law enforcement can take people’s private property. In a recent report by the nonpartisan Institute for Justice, Massachusetts earned an “F” grade for its regressive asset forfeiture laws.
The Trump administration, politicians, and Trump-appointed judges across the country are waging a full-out assault on reproductive freedom – and we need to act to safeguard the right to abortion. As the Trump administration continues its daily attacks on our health and reproductive rights, and as the Supreme Court considers hearing a case designed to gut Roe v. Wade, we cannot be complacent here in Massachusetts.
In fact, even in Massachusetts, the constitutional right to abortion does not always translate into access to care.
An Act to Remove Obstacles and Expand Abortion Access, or the ROE Act, is the necessary policy prescription. By removing unnecessary, burdensome provisions that delay or deny care, Massachusetts will ensure all people can make decisions for themselves and access safe, legal abortion no matter what happens in Washington.
At the ACLU, we have been working to guarantee voting rights for nearly 100 years, and will continue to work to protect and expand access to the ballot. It’s time for Massachusetts to join the 19 other states that have passed Election Day registration to help every voter in every city, town, and precinct exercise their right to vote. Increased ballot access and voter participation mean a stronger democracy.
With the federal government continuing to detain and deport people in droves with zero regard for civil rights and family unity, Massachusetts needs to take concrete action. It’s time to step up, do right by immigrants and their families, and protect them from the worst excesses of the Trump administration.
From ensuring immigrants’ rights to due process and access to justice are never denied here in the Commonwealth, to limiting Massachusetts’ role in the White House’s continued attacks on immigrants, there is a lot of work we can – and must – do to affirm our country’s promise as a beacon of liberty for all.