October 14, 2011

ACLU president talks civil rights at I-House

American citizens risk making themselves targets of discrimination if they fail to confront tough questions about the erosion of their civil rights, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said Tuesday at International House.

In her talk, Susan Herman addressed the negative social consequences that the Bush and Obama administrations have brought to American society in the name of “enhancing national security” after 9/11. Herman focused on the Patriot Act, which allows the FBI to gather information on American citizens without a court order through places like libraries and telecommunication providers.

“Most people don’t believe they are affected by this. How are you supposed to know if somebody walks into your records? Everybody assumes it’s not happened very much or it’s happening to someone else,” she said.

Increasing public awareness is the first step in solving the problem of erosion of democracy, Herman said. She said that as the government gains power over the information of individuals, it can decide whom to target in an arbitrary or discriminatory way.

“The government needs to have more conversations, dialogues with American people. What are the costs here? What rights should be infringed on? However, nobody is telling this side of the story,” Herman said.

A constitutional scholar and chaired professor at Brooklyn Law School, Herman has been the president of the ACLU since 2008, and was a member of the organization’s national board of directors for 20 years.

Herman was promoting her latest book, Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy.

Part of the Global Voices Author Night Series, the talk was organized by International House and the Seminary Co-op Bookstore.