Legal Report January/February 2022
Qualified immunity. The U.S. Supreme Court found that in two separate instances, police officers could not be held liable for their alleged use of excessive force. No justices signed the opinions or issued dissentions.
The rulings implied that the Court will not reconsider qualified immunity for police officers. Qualified immunity precedent currently shields law enforcement officers from some liability for excessive force claims, as well as other Fourth Amendment violations, if the violations occur in the line of duty.
The Court’s rulings overturned lower court decisions, which had ruled against the officers. In one case, a plaintiff sued California police officer Daniel Rivas-Villegas for alleged excessive force during an arrest. In the other case, the estate of Dominic Rollice sued three Oklahoma police officers—Josh Girdner, Chase Reed, and Brandon Vick—for excessive force. The officers killed Rollice after he attempted to attack them with a hammer.
The justices determined that in both cases, there was no precedent that “clearly established” that the officers’ behavior was unconstitutional—granting the officers qualified immunity. (Rivas-Villegas v. Cortesluna, Tahlequah v. Bond, Supreme Court, No. 20-1539 and 20-1668, 2021)
Racial discrimination. A U.S. federal jury fined Tesla approximately $137 million for racially discriminating against a former subcontractor while he worked for the electric car manufacturer.
Between 2015 and 2016, Owen Diaz, Lamar Peterson, and Diaz’s son, Demetric—all three African-American men—worked in different areas of Tesla’s Freemont, California, production factory. During that time, they were subjected to racially motivated abuse, including the regular use of racial slurs, threatening behavior, and racist and derogatory caricatures. Diaz also overheard racial slurs used towards other Black employees.
Although Diaz brought the abuse to the attention of Tesla supervisors and the staffing companies that hired the men to work at Tesla, according to court documents neither company took any action to address or remediate the situation. In Diaz’s case, sometimes factory supervisors would direct racial slurs at him or create racist drawings and post them around the factory.
Diaz was demoted after registering his complaints, despite a lack of negative performance reviews or disciplinary issues. Diaz quit the job around May 2016. He filed his lawsuit against Tesla in October 2017 with California’s Superior Court for the County of Alameda, however, the case was removed to a U.S. District Court in California the following month.
In a letter from a Tesla executive that was posted on the company’s website, it asserted that while the company is “still not perfect,” it did intervene to ensure that “responsive and timely action was taken by the staffing agencies: two contractors were fired, and one was suspended.” (Diaz v. Tesla, Inc., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3:17-cv-06748-WHO, 2021)
Domestic terrorism. An Illinois woman was sentenced to 53 years in U.S. federal prison for orchestrating a 2017 bombing of a Minnesota mosque.
Emily Claire Hari is the former leader of an anti-government militia group, the White Rabbits, which carried out the premeditated bombing at the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, during morning prayers.
Although the bombing did not maim anyone or result in any fatalities, prosecutors argued that the attack traumatized the community because it was intended to scare Muslims into leaving the United States. Hari was found guilty of obstructing the freedom to religious beliefs and of damaging a property because of its religious significance.
As of Security Management’s press time, Hari’s co-defendants, who both pleaded guilty and testified against her, were awaiting sentencing. (United States v. Emily Claire Hari, a/k/a/ Michael Hari, U.S. District Court for Minnesota, No. 18-cr-00150-DWF-HB, 2021)
Terrorism. New Zealand enacted its Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill, eliminating loopholes in multiple security laws to make preparing for a terrorist attack illegal—whether the attack is carried out or not.
The new law was rapidly pushed through parliament and enacted after a terrorist inspired by the Islamic State carried out a knife attack in Auckland.
The law also grants police the authority to enter, search, and surveil a place without a warrant when working to prevent preparations for a terror act. It makes it a criminal offense to participate in weapons or combat training as part of training for an attack.
National security. The Parliament of Singapore enacted the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021 (No. 24/2021). The new law gives the country’s minister for home affairs the power to investigate people suspected of operating as foreign agents and participating in antagonistic online information campaigns.
The act also creates an independent panel to hear appeals of the minister’s findings. The panel, which will be chaired by a judge, will bar some individuals from filing appeals—specifically people, such as political party and parliament members, who are “identified as at-risk because they are politically significant,” according to the law.
Critics of the law claim it is worded broadly and could be used as a tool against independent media outlets.
Genetic information. California Governor Gavin Newsom enacted two laws that increase privacy and security requirements for genetic data.
AB 825 adds genetic information to the definition of personal information, including any data that comes from the analysis of a person’s biological material, such as blood, saliva, or hair. This new law affects the Information Practices Act of 1977, Civil Code 1798.815, and Civil Code 1798.82.
Now agencies, businesses, and people who store personal information about Californians are required to implement security protocols to protect genetic data, as well as notify residents of data breaches that involve their information, and disclose security breaches that compromise their systems.
SB 41 requires direct-to-customer genetic testing companies to notify users about company policies and obtain consent when collecting, using, storing, and disclosing users’ genetic data. The law also gives consumers the right to rescind previously given consent, at which point the company has 30 days to destroy that person’s biological samples. The act also means that companies that violate the law will face civil penalties.
Both laws took effect on 1 January.
Screening. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) enrolled all its personnel into its “continuous vetting” program, which is aimed at identifying extremists and insider threats.
The program flags certain information of those enrolled as it arises—for example, when an employee or DOD clearance holder is arrested.
The enrollment brings the U.S. federal government closer to its Trusted Workforce 2.0 goal, a background investigation effort aimed at reforming the vetting process and creating a government-wide system to identify and address possible extremist threats among uniformed and civilian personnel.
Surveillance. An Oxford man violated UK privacy laws by placing a camera system around his home that captured his neighbor’s private data without consent, an Oxford County Court ruled.
The court found that Jon Woodard’s Ring doorbell was angled to capture images of the front of Dr. Mary Fairhurst’s home and yard. His security camera surveilled a shared parking area and Fairhurst’s garden, supplemented by a sensor and floodlight, plus additional cameras along his shed and on another resident’s home. The judge noted that audio information collected by the cameras was excessive because it could pick up neighbors’ private conversations.
Fairhurst, who is seeking £100,000 ($135,495) in damages, successfully claimed that Woodard was harassing her through his home surveillance system. The court also determined that Woodard violated the 2018 Data Protection Act and the UK’s General Data Protection Act because the cameras’ feeds could be monitored from Woodard’s smartphone or smartwatch. The judge also found that Woodward had lied about the scope of his surveillance, breaching the GDPR which mandates that data can only be collected for specific and legitimate reasons.
While most settings involving a domestic CCTV or video doorbell do not infringe upon people’s privacy, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office recommended that steps should be taken to ensure that there is minimal intrusion of neighbors’ and others’ privacy. (Mary Fairhurst v. Jon Woodard, County Court at Oxford, No. G00MK161, 2021)