Investigation on Parallel Construction Called for by New X-Lab Fellow Sean Vitka

X-Lab is pleased to announce the latest addition to its Fellows program, Sean Vitka, who has authored a crucial letter delivered this week to the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) calling for an investigation into the use of Parallel Construction and its disproportionate impacts on communities of color. The letter details how the law enforcement practice of Parallel Construction conceals where evidence originated, even when evidence might have been collected via illegal means, thereby undermining defendants’ rights and judicial review.

The letter can be read

“We’re extremely excited to have such an extraordinary individual working with X-Lab,” said Sascha Meinrath, Director of X-Lab and Palmer Chair in Telecommunications at Penn State University. “Sean Vitka has been a leading voice for comprehensive surveillance reform, and has been a tour-de-force, pushing Congress to rein in failed spying programs and protect our civil liberties.”

Sean is legislative counsel for CREDO Action and a senior fellow for Demand Progress. Prior to this, he was the federal policy manager at the Sunlight Foundation, where he successfully pushed for open, transparent government. Sean is a co-founder of the Civil Liberties Coalition, one of the largest coalitions in the United States calling for an end to mass government surveillance.

The letter to the USCCR calls for an investigation into the impacts on communities of color of Parallel Construction, a little-known but highly damaging investigative and prosecutorial technique. Because Parallel Construction misleads both the courts and defendants, the practice threatens fundamental components of America’s court system. Alarmingly, Parallel Construction also appears to be used to mask investigative histories that involve warrantless, mass surveillance, something that deserves particular scrutiny from courts (especially since these programs, by law, are not supposed to target US citizens). Indeed, it may be one way in which the NSA’s and DEA’s metadata programs are used to guide drug and terrorism investigations without being subject to public or judicial oversight.

“While it was not widely reported until 2013, Parallel Construction is becoming a bigger and bigger issue, primarily impacting communities that are already disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. It’s equivalent to having an entirely different, secret legal standard for allegations involving drugs or terrorism -- allegations that disproportionately target communities of color,” said Sean Vitka, X-Lab Fellow. “Parallel Construction is a concrete example of how mass surveillance undermines rule of law, leads directly to incarceration, and compromises Americans’ constitutionally-guaranteed right to challenge the evidence brought against them.”

The letter calls on the USCCR to investigate the secretive practice and to determine whether it violates civil rights. The letter has been signed by numerous civil liberties organizations, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab American Institute, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Defending Dissent Foundation, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, the Government Accountability Project, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Security Counselors organization,, Restore the Fourth, and X-Lab.

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