Hi reddit, Anthony Romero here. I'm the Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union (http://www.aclu.org/), our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country. I will be discussing Counterterrorism, National Security, and the Rule of Law with NSA’s Raj De, U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride, Former DoD General Counsel Jeh Charles Johnson, Former Congresswoman Jane Harman, and NBC’s Mike Isikoff, at the Aspen Security Forum (http://aspensecurityforum.org/) today - so to help me prepare for this debate - please AMA! Thanks!

Comments: 1556 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

wetbutter286 karma

Hey Anthony. What are the ACLU's plans for handling the NSA's PRISM and other surveillance programs? Thank you for all that you guys do!

AnthonyRomero471 karma

hey.. thanks. we filed the first suit against the nsa program a couple of days after snowden's revelations. we happen to be customers of verizon business network. so we had standing.. HA. we're in court. there are five other suits that have been filed too. don't worry. you haven't heard the last of this debate.

AnthonyRomero241 karma

ok. so let me keep going on the "harm" we do. and see if we can spark a conversation. look, in our democracy, we are all better off when there is robust debate. system of checks and balances. point counterpoint. so even if you don't agree with us on the actual position of the aclu, i think we make democracy stronger by promoting robust debate. a countervailing force to make sure we kick the tires on the things that matter to most americans. i.e.., our rights and liberties.

Capers0134 karma

If you are for individual liberties how come the ACLU doesn't take on any second amendment cases?

AnthonyRomero81 karma

second amendment... sigh... the right to bear arms.. an individual right or a collective right.. great academic debate... but what's the point? govt can and should regulate firearms... at the end of the day, we do very little on the second amendment. that one amendment is covered incredibly well by the NRA and gun control groups. So i say, let the NRA take the second amendment. with there larger membership base, and bigger budget. we will handle the first, fourth, fifth, and 14th amendments... this is usually a red herring that folks use against us when they don't like the other stuff we do.. i'm not suggesting that is your point of view.. but if you want to support the second amendment, go to the nra. if you care about the rest of our democracy, then we are your group.

EllieMayC108 karma

Thank you Mr. Romero for work you and the ACLU do.

Have there been any cases in which you personally disagreed with a person/group but you fought for their cause anyway? Thank you.

AnthonyRomero360 karma

look... westboro baptist church... fred phelps. a total idiot.. homophobe.. (i'm gay). he organizes protests at military funerals saying that soldiers die because we give gay people like me their rights. i hate what he says. but when he gets a permit and does a protest on public land that's protected speech. sometimes our core principles are tested on the most pariah of folks/clients. we defend some of these clients because the principles are important..

jameswithalisp107 karma

Thanks for the doing this ama! How are Americans supposed to protect ourselves from infringements of the constitution if all the infringing programs and actions are kept classified? In a general sense, how can secret programs ever even be kept in check?

AnthonyRomero201 karma

that's why we have to kick up a s---storm. members of congress work for us.. they should hear from us...

FookinGumby87 karma

Do you think the US government is wrong to persecute Snowden for his whistleblowing? Also has your organization done anything to help Snowden?

AnthonyRomero175 karma

the sedition act, which is what the us govt is partly relying upon to prosecute snowmen, is overbroad. the aclu was actually formed in response to the sedition act of 1917. we don't think whistleblowers should get prosecuted for leaks in the public interest. re: snowden.. can i give you a non answer that will be answer?

AnthonyRomero64 karma

watch my discussion at the aspen security forum at 1:45pm ET where we will surely talk more about snowden http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJiTjCAMjLY

the_seventh_note65 karma

Hey Anthony,

In your opinion what is the most blatant disregard for the Constitution since 9/11? Besides the Patriot Act.

AnthonyRomero127 karma

hard to pick one. gitmo. drones. surveillance. they are all up there

PatentAtty65 karma

Is there a time that the ACLU has gone in a direction you didn't morally agree with (either during your tenure or before) and which you think fundamentally hurt the ACLU's cause?

AnthonyRomero153 karma

definitely. in the 50s, our leadership got too cozy with hoover ... expelled communists. shared minutes of our meetings. they were afraid that hoover.. j edgar.. would shut us down. terrible betrayal of our values.

dsade53 karma

Given the out of control militarization (and apparent contempt for Constitutional rights) demonstrated by numerous police agencies, as well as the recent Nevada story:


will the ACLU start pushing back early against 3rd amendment encroachment before these stories become more common?

AnthonyRomero41 karma

haven't really thought of the 3rd amendment as a place where we can get traction. educate me?

am_i_demon51 karma

It seems from news reports and summaries of litigation that the Department of Justice has become particularly combative and obstructionist in their arguments regarding national security issues such as drones, indefinite detention, torture, preemptive war, and now NSA spying. Is this the strategy they have always employed in civil liberties litigation or was there a sudden strategy shift after 9/11?

Can you shed some light on what it's like to litigate against the DOJ and how (if at all) it has changed over recent years?

AnthonyRomero95 karma

suing the DOJ. lol. that's something we have a lot of experience with. in the bush years, and now in the obama years. DOJ, on national security cases, works real hard to stop any of the cases from going forward on the merits. they often use procedural arguments to stop us and our allies. they fight us on standing grounds. like, you can't challenge the surveillance unless you can prove that you have been a subject of surveillance. hard to do when the surveillance is secret. they use state secrets arguments to bounce us out of court. saying that to even defend against an aclu suit would compromise state secrets. they argue that the courts have no role in reviewing these types of cases. the political question. that the exec branch needs to have the discretion without being subjected to judicial scrutiny... so litigating against the govt on national security has been incredibly frustrating. but it is too important not to try. and on some of them we have won

GuitarWizard9050 karma

What is your opinion on the Edward Snowden situation? Most people seem to be on his side, but there are some people, specifically in the American media, who think that he is a traitor because he broke the law to reveal the spying program. I personally think spying on everyone is a much worse offense than the leak. He broke the law to reveal a much worse law being broken, in my opinion.

Also, is the ACLU going to fight the spy program?

AnthonyRomero113 karma

snowden... look... is this country better off because of his leaks. absolutely. we are having a robust debate about the breadth of govt secret surveillance that we haven't had before. i think he acted on his conscience and i am glad that he revealed the breadth of the nsa spying program. he is a whisteblower, despite what the white house says. and i think it is on to make sure that we keep this debate alive and ratchet back the govt surveillance

lordkalkin47 karma

What possibilities do you see for reconciling privacy rights with the new economy of trading personal information for informational goods from data minders like Google? Do you think we'll invoke some confidentiality relationship as yet undefined, or strengthen intellectual property rights over ownership of personal information?

AnthonyRomero118 karma

the internet providers are scared out of their wits about the recent nsa revelations as they are afraid that customers won't use them or trust them with their personal data. the best way to get to the public interest is to play to a corporation's self interest. so if google customers begin to raise concerns re: privacy and nsa with google, google will become more aggressive in pushing back against the govt. we see that already. so use your power as customers of the internet companies to demand more transparency and protection of privacy.

pacotaco72429 karma

Do you think that americans who defend one amendment are obligated to defend others if threatened? even if they dont agree or care about them as much? Are we obligated to defend the constitution as a whole or just the parts we want?

AnthonyRomero32 karma

what does the right to bear arms mean if you cannot express yourself, or have freedom of association. so i say that you have to care about unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom of speech and association, equal protection of the law, if you really want to be able to exercise other rights fully

GBDB26 karma

Right to have reasonable bail is a joke in the federal courts where bail is routinely denied on various grounds. Seems like this is one of those Scalia would be a literalist on and help change. In state courts routine domestic violence defendants are routinely held without bail for a "cooling off" period. Isn't that also a violation of the constitution???

AnthonyRomero44 karma

bail bond reform is a mess. state by state. private sector involvement of shady bonds corporations. we are looking for an angle. one thing that is amazing about the aclu and i had nothing to do with it. is that we have an office with a staffed presence in every state. so we can tackle state by state controversies in a way that no other advocacy group really can

kittydan224 karma

Can we fix the problems of today with the same system we have today?

The founding fathers never had to deal with corperations or a debt based money system. The checks and balances that were designed to protect us have reached a critical mass where they check and balance for corruption instead of democracy. Can we realistically (no false optemism please) fix our problems with our current system?

If so - what will it take?

AnthonyRomero37 karma

false optimism is a waste of time. optimism is a necessity.. a long view is the only way to win.. can we "win" on all the challenges right now? nope. some of them we are losing in a big way right now. but we have to stick at it. water on stone.. i actually think that there is a swing back and forth that comes with political developments. read geoff stone's book on rights in times of crisis. you will be optimistic about the long game

adovale1921 karma

Thank you for taking the time to address our questions.

In what fashion (if at all) will the ACLU be involved with the defense of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? I've read the statements issued regarding his Miranda Rights issued by the ACLU, but will there be further involvement?

AnthonyRomero16 karma

i think tsarnaev is pretty well covered. he's got a good team of lawyers. the best mitigation expert that I know. she's worked for us. So we keep a watch on the cases, and if there is something for us to add, or some need that we can uniquely address, we jump in.. if not, we're glad to let other good folks do their jobs.

Stained_Dagger19 karma

How do you think the government should handle the internet in regards to civil liberties? Is it a fundamental right? How do you handle the civil liberties vs. The problem of harassment, threats when everyone can be anonymous?

AnthonyRomero24 karma

ok. we got a bunch now. so let me take one by one i am a terrible typist. so am going to just go with it. internet. freedom of speech. right to privacy. those are fundamental rights. the internet is the medium. and we have to make sure that the rights we expect and demand in our everyday lives in ordinary speech are also protected on the internet. i think this is the big issue of our day.. with the nsa controversy. and i think our govt has gone too far

MonsieurDufayel19 karma

Hi Anthony! I've been a member of the ACLU since I was in college, and am grateful for the work you do on our behalf.

In regards to the state of government surveillance of its own citizens, I often hear people say that it isn't a big deal because they have nothing to hide. Like them, my personal communications are pretty mundane. How should I explain that this is still a really really bad practice for our government to be engaged in?

AnthonyRomero22 karma

this is a real question. most of us have done nothing illegal. so if we haven't done anything wrong, why worry about surveillance. but most of us have also had communications with our families, friends, or even strangers that might be embarrassing. i know that there are some messages i have sent that i wouldn't want my 83 year old mother to have to read about her "devoted" son. so it is also a question about the chilling effect that will happen if people feel that the govt possesses all of our private communications.. we might be less willing to be forthcoming or the free spirits we sometimes want and need to be. the question is whether it is "good" for our democracy for the govt to have that level of information on all americans. i think not.

surgerylad19 karma

What would you say the toughest aspect of your job is?

AnthonyRomero46 karma

raising money. we are $160 million a year expense budget. all in. small endowment. no govt money. in the bush years, it rained money. now, people are less engaged because we have obama. but the challenges are as great.. just join. we need bodies. and people who are engaged.

notthatclever18 karma

What first inspired you to work with the ACLU? What do you think of the NAACP seeking to file civil rights charges against George Zimmerman?

AnthonyRomero45 karma

am an idealist. an optimist. the aclu is the one organization that defends the rights of everybody. i'm gay, but i dont' want to work on gay rights exclusively. i'm a man, but am a feminist i'm puerto rican, but i believe in racial justice. so the aclu is the only place that fits my world view that everybody has rights, and all those rights need to be defended. the right to live with dignity. that's what it is all about.

AnthonyRomero33 karma

on zimmerman.... complicated. our country has a long standing principle that people shouldn't be charged for a crime successively if they have been acquitted. it's called double jeopardy. so we have to be careful that our concern for the travon martin case not make us go afoul of the double jeopardy rule. that said, there are things that the federal government could investigate to make sure that the police and prosecutors handled the case, investigation and prosecution correctly.

AnthonyRomero18 karma

EDIT: So I have to go... this has been great. please watch my debate at the aspen security forum on the rule of law (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJiTjCAMjLY) you can also join the aclu for an AMA on license plate tracking going on until 3pm et (http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1ikd9h/we_are_aclu_experts_demanding_better_privacy/) i apologize if the writing was imperfect and informal .. but it is pretty amazing to have this type of conversation.. my email is [email protected].. give me time but we do answer them all. whether you agree with us or not, stay engaged. this stuff is too important to be a by-stander to...

D-Vivid17 karma

Mr. Romero, why has the ALCU taken the stance it has on the Citizens United case? Has the recent election and the actions of people such as the Koch brothers, who openly tried to purchase elections, changed the ACLU's position on this? I generally support what you do but I can't disagree enough with the position your organization has taken saying that money=speech.

AnthonyRomero20 karma

oh.. citizen's united. what a mess?! did the supreme court go too far in that decision, yes!. should the ban on the hillary clinton movie have been struck down, yes. that was political speech, and there is nothing more important to protect than political speech. now, does money corrupt our system of politics. yes. and the aclu has recently changed its opinion that reasonable limits on campaign contributions should be allowed. but that is all water under the bridge... the only way to "fix" citizens united is through a constitutional amendment to amend the first amendment. in my view that would bring more harm than good. in this climate. so public financing is the only real options we should really get behind in this political climate

kittydan211 karma

Can our liberties be saved? Realistically speaking, is the US too far gone?

AnthonyRomero88 karma

no... come on.. never gone too far.. this is an amazing country. liberties expand and they contract. what's the alternative? let our democracy go to hell in a hand basket. suit up. get in there.. it's too important to allow ourselves to become nihilists.

TheSelfGoverned10 karma

Your organization is working harder to maintain our civil liberties than any branch of government or government institution, yet you are a private and independent institution. Why do you think this is?

Has democracy failed us? If so, how can citizens make a difference?

AnthonyRomero15 karma

govt institution's defend the govt prerogatives. you need an outside force to keep all govts accountable. am proud that we have not pulled our punches under the obama administration, just as we gave bush a run for our private money citizens can make a big difference. politicians respond to two things. money and votes. constituents do matter in the political equation. opeds, letters to the editor, calls to members of congress. all have an impact. also you should support those groups that do good work with which you agree. if surveillance troubles you, support the electronic frontier foundation, or the aclu.. we all need you now

Lord_Finkleroy9 karma

Can I have a job?

AnthonyRomero21 karma

yep. apply. buddy. on the website. all jobs posted.

linecrossed9 karma

Do you have any plans to address the recent Indiana bill that imprisons gay people that apply for marriage licenses?

AnthonyRomero37 karma

gotta say.. first i'm hearing of it.. lots of crazy bills get introduced. and we fight them off thru our state offices. marriage equality is an inevitability. the dinosaurs will roar as the meteors hit the earth .. but legally sanctioned discrimination against lgbt people is going extinct in america. so crazy bills will be introduced but i am not worried. if it gets passed, we will sue.

nlcund7 karma

The ACLU often issues statistics which seem at best cherry-picked. Do you try to make systematic analyses of your positions, or is that secondary?

AnthonyRomero17 karma

look at our recent report on marijuana arrests on race. reviewed by stanford, and they validated our numbers crunching... we try to lay out the facts as we see them.

darker43087 karma


AnthonyRomero35 karma

i live in jersey city. the farthest thing from a gated community you can imagine. a broken down desolate warehouse is right next to my building. i ride the subway everyday to work. so, i don't think i'm a gated guy

bobert215-9 karma

I think you do more harm than good.

AnthonyRomero7 karma

tell me specifically what harm you think we do... not everybody agrees with everything we do. but on whole i think we play a key role on many of the public debates

peonage-11 karma

I don't mean to come off as rude. I really look forward to your AMA but would it be possible to clean up your writing style? I have a hard time taking it seriously when you don't even capitalize your "I".

AnthonyRomero6 karma

you're not rude.. but am trying to get to as many of the questions as possible. and i am not a great typist i'm trying to have substance over form. and keep it conversational. sorry if this doesn't work for you in this format.