States consider legislation to limit and control protests

Peaceful Assembly

A number bills curtailing protests and demonstrations have been proposed or passed in 19 states legislatures. The legislation aims to limit certain protest tactics or increase penalties for illegal protests. In South Dakota, for example, a new law has expanded the governor’s authority to prohibit protest activities on public lands and protests that interfere with highway traffic. In Georgia, legislators are considering a bill that would broaden the definition of domestic terrorism to potentially include demonstrations, boycotts, and other forms of protest and political expression.

Additionally, the Memphis Police Department has created a “watchlist” of protesters connected to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The police have already conducted multiple surveillance operations and gathered information on BLM protesters, including their date of birth, weight and height.

In Washington DC, the police department is asking Facebook and other technology companies to provide information on protesters arrested during President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Many of those arrested were charged with felony rioting, and police have reportedly seized and mined their phones for evidence.

Expression

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon announced plans to introduce a bill that would limit digital searches by U.S. customs agents at border crossings. The bill would require “law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before searching devices and prohibit the practice of forcing travelers to reveal their online account passwords”. This is in response to the Trump administration's proposal to require foreign visitors to hand over their social media account passwords to customs officers. More than 50 human rights and civil liberties groups, as well as nearly 100 law professors and security experts, signed a letter expressing their concern and opposition to the current administration's proposal. 

Additionally, two Tennessee lawmakers introduced a bill in the state legislature that would require colleges to adopt policies to protect free speech. Dubbed the “Milo Bill” after conservative figurehead and Breitbart editor, Milo Yiannopoulos, whose presence on college campuses often triggers widespread protest from students. The proposal states that public universities "have abdicated their responsibility to uphold free speech principles". According to State Representative, Martin Daniel, one of the bill's sponsors, 

“Campus free speech is being challenged by restrictive speech codes and speaker bans…safe spaces and trigger warnings and administrators who feel pressured to placate demonstrators”.

Association

According to a report by the Charity & Security Network, two-thirds of American nonprofits working internationally have experienced banking issues as a result of recent anti-money laundering and terror-financing laws. These issues include account closures and account refusals, delays in wire transfers, and requests for unusual additional documentation. The report, "Financial Access for U.S. Nonprofits", cites examples of humanitarian programmes being delayed or cancelled due to the bureaucratic and legal hurdles. In one instance, a charity was unable to pay for the fuel to power a hospital in Syria because of lengthy delays in transmitting funds.

On 21st March 2017, at a Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on Capitol Hill, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, called on the United States to take the lead and exemplify the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Kiai specifically noted the importance of trade unions and the right of citizens to form unions:

"The United States—which graciously hosted me on an official visit last summer—needs to set an example by promoting and protecting the fundamental rights of its citizens, and the people on its soil.
It starts with the United States accepting that trade unions — with their right to strike, and collective bargaining — are a crucial part of democratic values and reducing inequality and frustrations. People should be robustly encouraged to form unions, as a counter weight to the enormous and unfettered power of businesses, which lead to inequality and frustrations".