ACLU Issues Report On Obama Administration's Civil Liberties Record

January 19, 2010 3:18 pm

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

First Year Saw Civil Rights Advances And End Of Torture But Continuation Of Overbroad Domestic Surveillance Practices

CONTACT: (212) 549-2666;

NEW YORK – The Obama administration’s record on restoring civil liberties during its first year in office is mixed, according to a new report analyzing the administration’s performance released today by the American Civil Liberties Union. Of a set of 145 detailed recommendations the ACLU made to the new president upon his election, the administration has acted on just over one-third of them.

“Starting with bold executive orders to end torture and close the prison at Guantánamo, and continuing with positive actions in areas like open government and civil rights, the Obama administration has made some significant strides toward restoring civil liberties and the rule of law,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “But in other areas, the administration has fallen short by allowing some of the Bush administration’s most troublesome practices to continue and by failing to take steps that would restore some very fundamental rights and values to American life.”

The administration’s record on the ACLU’s highest priority recommendations – those it asked President Obama to take on his first day in office – is uneven. Despite the president’s executive order to close the notorious prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, it remains open, detainees remain there without charge or trial and the flawed military commission system is still being used. And while the president ordered an end to torture and the Justice Department has initiated a very limited inquiry into detainee abuse, the president has shown little appetite for encouraging a comprehensive torture investigation that would include high level officials from the Bush administration. The Obama administration has also retained its authority to engage in extraordinary renditions.

On the ACLU’s other top priorities – those it asked President Obama to act on within his first 100 days – the administration’s record is weak. On issues like spying on Americans, monitoring of activists, terrorism watchlists, the Real ID Act and DNA databases, the administration has carried out none of the ACLU’s recommendations.

“Our hope a year ago was that the Obama administration would restore our nation’s long tradition of respect for privacy and the rule of law by rolling back the privacy-invading domestic security policies enacted by the Bush administration,” Romero said. “Unfortunately, many of those policies have not been reversed, and we now run the risk of seeing them become a permanent part of American life.”

On the issues of civil rights, open government, freedom of speech and reproductive freedom, the administration has fared much better, as it has acted on about half of the ACLU’s recommendations.

“In the face of enormous domestic and international challenges that naturally occupied much of President Obama’s attention, the administration has managed to initiate a lot of positive actions that deserve commendation and which can help put America on a path toward regaining its standing as a global leader in freedom and equality,” said Romero. “But it is clear after one year that the administration has a lot more work to do, and the ACLU will continue to vigorously fight for and support such action.”

A copy of the ACLU’s analysis of the Obama administration’s record on restoring civil liberties, including a chart showing which of the ACLU’s recommendations the administration acted upon, is available online at:

Additional information about the American Civil Liberties Union is available online at:

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.