Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, will speak on Friday on constitutional rights. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

As Constitution Day approaches, Mass. ACLU director Carol Rose discusses civil liberties

Carol Rose, the current executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, will lead a discussion entitled ‘Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Constitutional Update” as part of the Constitution Day event hosted by Department of Political Science this Friday. Citizens’ liberties, their endangerment and the ways in which ordinary citizens can protect them will all be a part of the conversation. The Daily sat down with Rose to discuss her background and perspectives on these issues.

Daily: What initially attracted you to working with human rights, both as a reporter and a first amendment lawyer?

Rose: I started out as a reporter because I think I’m intellectually curious, and it was an opportunity to really have the world be my classroom. The more that I worked as a reporter, two things were revealed to me. One is that there’s a lot of injustice in the world. That came through as I traveled in the world … [I saw] the amount of injustice that takes place and … the power of the press to shine a light on those injustices and, in so doing, to help to bring about change, or to begin to address those injustices.

The other thing that I learned is that the rights we take for granted in America, like freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal opportunity [and] equal rights under the law are actually quite unique. They don’t exist in very many places in the world, and so it really made me want to … study law so that I truly understood those rights. It really made me realize that they’re rights that shouldn’t be taken for granted, because just as they’re created by humans, they can be taken away by humans. We have an obligation to the people that came before us to exercise those rights and keep them strong, and also to defend those rights and extend them to those who might not have [that] benefit.

You were based in Pakistan for a while, and you also spent some time in Northern Ireland, in Gaza and in the West Bank. Do you think that going overseas and seeing the ways in which  injustices were carried out in those countries changed your perspective on the ways in which injustices are carried out here?

To be sure, going into conflict zones — there, the rights that we enjoy, at least in theory, in the United States aren’t available to many people. [That] made me more appreciative of those rights, but also made me realize that there are many people in the United States that actually don’t realize the benefit of those rights.

Being a reporter [and] doing stories for migrant labor camps in the United States, doing stories in poor communities, doing stories about immigrants that are being discriminated against, doing stories about women and people of color and gay and lesbian [and] transgender people … also made me aware that in many ways, while the United States has a lot of rights in theory and in the law, we have to work to realize those for everyone.

Since the ’90s, the government has been become increasingly secretive. Massachusetts has a really weak public records law, and the federal government, with each presidential administration, including the Obama administration, has gotten increasingly secretive … the need for journalists to have strong working relationships with media lawyers is really growing, and a really good media lawyer / journalist team can be really powerful.

We’re increasingly moving to a place where the government has increased its ability to spy on its citizens, so the citizens aren’t watching the government, [but] the government is watching the citizens. That’s the exact antithesis of how a democracy’s supposed to operate.

Comment on the NSA leaks. Specifically, why do citizens need to be concerned? What would you say to people who think, “I have nothing to hide; you should feel free to search whatever?”

If you honestly have nothing to hide in your whole life, you simply aren’t old enough or haven’t lived an interesting enough life. All of us who have lived an interesting life have things that we don’t make public. That’s why we seal envelopes, that’s why we wear clothes, that’s why we shut the door and pull the curtains sometimes. I don’t think there are very many people — in fact, I would submit, there are no people — who actually have nothing that they’d like to keep private.

Privacy is the realm where beautiful things happen, whether it’s making love or making art or making poetry. We need to have a space of personal autonomy where we’re free from constant surveillance, so that we have the right to try on new ideas [and] new things that maybe we don’t want to be defined by, but if we don’t do them, [then] we’re not living a full human existence. And the concern isn’t really that you would go to jail for the things that you want to hide, but that someone could blackmail you. Someone could put you on a dirty tricks list, somebody could somehow prevent you from getting a job, and you might never know that.

The problem is that the people who are going to be targeted are going to be people who question the government or people who might not be in power … and so it really creates a hierarchy that benefits the people in power in our society against the people who are not in power and who might be dissidents or artists who question authority. And in a democracy, it’s the people who question authority, it’s the artists, who push the boundaries that create a world that’s worth living in, I think.

The aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and the door to door searches in Watertown reminded the public of Fourth Amendment breaches in the physical case as well. What was your opinion on that — were they warranted?

I think there’s an effectiveness question, whether or not that kind of massive policing … is really good for public safety, and based on what the Watertown police chief said, it failed miserably. So I think that there’s a really important argument that when we talk about times when we might have to trade liberty for security, whether it’s actually increasing security.

Police militarization has been in the spotlight lately due to the events in Ferguson. Do you think that there’s a real over-militarization problem with the police in America, and how do you think that trust can be reestablished between people and the police?

I think it’s a real concern, because not only are the weapons things like BearCats and armored vehicles and rocket launchers, [but] they’re primarily being used by SWAT teams in regular-serving warrants on drug charges. So they’re just ramming down peoples’ doors. 88 percent of the time they’re just drug cases, and the problem is that overuse of force leads to unnecessary deaths. If the police are seen as the enemy, it doesn’t help public safety.

I think there’s sometimes a false dichotomy between freedom and safety. I think it’s possible to be both safe and free, and in fact the only way to be safe is to be free. Having lived in conflict zones — they’re neither safe nor free. When I was living in places with a tremendous amount of repression, it didn’t feel safe. Maybe there wasn’t a lot of dissent, there wasn’t a lot of public speaking out, but there wasn’t a lot of safety either — it was scary. I don’t want to live in a society that’s scary, and [I] don’t want to live in a society that’s repressive.

Tell us about the discussion you’ll be leading on Friday about sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are all places where, increasingly, peoples’ rights are threatened. I’m going to talk about that because I think that it’s important for people to realize that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the principles set forth in those documents [are] evolving. I think that this generation of students in college — your generation — is really at a crossroads, because we’re at a time when technology is moving so fast that the law is having a hard time keeping pace, and so we need to exercise our constitutional rights in order to make sure that they stay robust. It’s really easy to lose them, and I don’t think they’ve ever been as endangered as they are right now.

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