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Legal Report March 2021

Judicial Decisions

Religious freedom. The U.S. Supreme Court determined that three Muslim men can pursue a suit against FBI agents who placed them on a no-fly list. Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, and Naveed Shinwari claim that they were placed on the list after they refused a request from the FBI to serve as informants.

Although the three men said acting as informants would violate their religious beliefs, the FBI did not accept the men’s decision. The agents instead allegedly persisted in their request, attempting to coerce the men by offering rewards, threatening them, and placing them on a no-fly list.

The three men sued the FBI agents in an effort to be removed from the no-fly list. They argued that their inclusion on the list cost them financially due to tickets they could no longer use and lost job opportunities. More than one year after the men filed suit, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told them they could fly again, a U.S. district court dismissed the case, and the men appealed.

A majority of the Court, with only one justice abstaining, found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) grants people an avenue to pursue “appropriate relief” when his or her religious exercise has been infringed upon. “The question here is whether ‘appropriate relief’ includes claims for money damages against government officials in their individual capacities,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion. “We hold that it does.... Damages against federal officials remain an appropriate form of relief today.” (Tanzin, et al. v. Tanvir, et al., U.S. Supreme Court, No. 19-71, 2020)

Gender identity. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal from Oregon parents who want students, including transgender students, in their district’s public schools to use facilities that correspond to a student’s sex assigned at birth instead of his or her gender identity.

Three parents of students and former students of the Dallas School District No. 2, along with Petitioner Parents for Privacy and Petitioner Parents Rights in Education, claimed that the current school policy (permitting transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity) “interferes with parents’ rights to direct the upbringing of their children, schoolchildren’s rights to bodily privacy,” as well as freedom of religion, according to the petition.

The Court’s decision to reject the challenge upholds a U.S. federal appeals court ruling. The lower court supported the school district’s policy. (Parents for Privacy, et al., Petitioners v. William P. Barr, Attorney General, et al., U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, No. 18-35708, 2020)

Supply chain. A former medical device packaging employee in the United States was sentenced to one year and one day in U.S. federal prison for willfully disrupting the company’s shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to court documents and the FBI, the unnamed company terminated Christopher Dobbins’ employment in March 2020, as well as his administrator access to the company’s computer systems, which contained shipping information.

Later that month, Dobbins accessed the company’s computer systems via a fake user account he had created while still employed. With that access, he disrupted and impeded the company’s shipments of PPE by editing approximately 115,581 records and deleting approximately 2,371 records, according to an FBI statement.

A U.S. federal district court charged Dobbins with reckless damage to a protected computer, to which he pled guilty. The court also ordered that Dobbins pay $221,200 in restitution for the damage caused and, at the end of his prison term, serve three years of supervised release. (U.S. v. Christopher Dobbins, U.S. District Court Northern District of Georgia, No. 1:20-CR-223-TWT, 2021)

Legislation

National defense. The U.S. Senate overrode then U.S. President Donald Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The $740 billion act (P.L. 116-283) is usually considered essential legislation. The law includes provisions related to cybersecurity, many of which are relevant to the recent compromise of a SolarWinds product. The law also gives the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency the power to issue subpoenas in investigations of hacks to private networks.

Trump vetoed the bill due to disagreements with two items. The first was the bill’s lack of a non-defense measure to abolish the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230, which protects online entities from liability claims concerning user speech. The second objection was over a stipulation that military installations named for Confederate leaders be renamed.

Regulations

United States

Money laundering. The U.S. Federal Reserve issued an enforcement order against Credit Suisse Group AG and its subsidiaries, calling on the bank to shore up its anti-money laundering policies after an investigation revealed deficiencies in the bank’s operations in the United States.

The order gave the bank 90 days from 22 December 2020 to implement a strategy for monitoring illegal activity and complying with the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act.

The Federal Reserve’s order, which was supported by the New York Department of Financial Services, was issued days after Swiss prosecutors filed charges against the bank for links to a European criminal organization that allegedly used the bank to launder its illegal earnings.

United Kingdom

Money laundering. The United Kingdom’s HM Revenue and Customs (HRMC) agency filed a record fine against money transfer company MT Global Limited. According to the agency, the £23.8 million ($32 million) fine was issued after finding that the company violated money laundering regulations.

Significant breaches of the regulations occurred between July 2017 and December 2019. The violations were related to risk assessments and associated record-keeping; policies, controls, and procedures; and fundamental customer due diligence measures.

Coronavirus. United Kingdom Home Secretary Priti Patel announced in January changes to regulations to discourage the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Anyone attending house parties with more than 15 people will now be fined £800 ($1,090). These fines will double for each subsequent offense, up to a maximum fine of £6,400 ($8,700). Previously, anyone attending an indoor gathering of more than six people could be initially fined £200 ($273), with a maximum fine of £6,400 for repeat offenders.

The new fines became effective 31 January.

Fines for those hosting or organizing illegal large events of more than 30 people will remain at £10,000 ($13,700).

As of Security Management’s press time, it was illegal in the UK to engage in social events with family or friends if they lived outside of a person’s home or were outside of that person’s “support bubble.” Residents were restricted to their homes and could leave for recreational or leisure activities.

International Court Cases

United Kingdom

Espionage. A London judge denied U.S. prosecutors’ request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, determining that Assange is at high risk for suicide.

U.S. authorities said they hoped to extradite Assange to the United States, where he would face charges of violating the U.S. Espionage Act related to his acquisition and 2010 publication of classified documents concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The court found that extradition would contribute to an increased risk of suicide for Assange, according to documents from Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Specifically, the court determined that anticipated U.S. prison conditions would likely exacerbate Assange’s recurrent depressive disorder, which he was diagnosed with in December 2019.

Although his remaining in the United Kingdom is a victory for Assange, the judge also determined that Assange was not protected by press freedoms when he published the secret documents, which had not redacted the names of more than 100 informants. (U.S. v. Julian Assange, Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Judgment 040121, 2021)

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