UPDATE 9/6/2018: On September 4, 2018, the city of Oxford Board of Aldermen passed its controversial and long-debated alcohol ordinance. The ACLU of MS alerted officials of its concerns about the ordinance, including with regards to privacy and racial targeting. Based on the ACLU of MS’s input and the input of many of Oxford’s businesses and residents, the ordinance was progressively amended. Here's the response from ACLU of MS Legal Director Joshua Tom:
"The final ordinance was a vast improvement from the original version and indeed from the penultimate version. By remaining open to input from Oxford residents and other groups, Oxford officicals were able to improve this ordinance.
"The ACLU of MS remains concerned, however, about the provisions of the ordinance that require certain businesses to install and maintain extensive video camera systems. Amongst other issues, video surveillance raises privacy concerns, opens the door for governmental abuse, and has proven to be ineffective at deterring crime.
"We will continue to ensure that laws in Mississippi, including Oxford, are constitutional and make good policy sense, in part by continuing to stay involved with Oxford’s residents and by monitoring its governance."
UPDATE 9/4/2018: In a detailed letter sent on August 31, 2018 to the city of Oxford Mayor and Board of Alderman, the ACLU of Mississippi cautioned passage of the updated alcohol ordinance. Sections of the proposed ordinance would implement a government surveillance regime in Oxford's bars, restaurants, and similar establishments. The following statement can be attributed to ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director Joshua Tom:
"The ACLU of Mississippi is still concerned with sections of the ordinance, specifically Section 14-100(5) that mandate complex and expensive, yet ineffective, camera surveillance systems on certain businesses. The sections as written would result in an invasion of privacy and the possibility of governmental abuse. We are, therefore, not convinced that this proposal is good public policy. We believe this ordinance is bad for the city of Oxford and its residents. We urge the Board of Alderman to strike the controversial governmental surveillance section from the proposed ordinance."
UPDATE 8/22/2018: The Oxford Board of Alderman postponed the vote on this proposed ordinance during the meeting last night in light of our response. There are several amendments that are set to be made before it goes back for a potential vote on September 4.
Today, the ACLU of Mississippi sent a letter to the Oxford Board of Aldermen in opposition to a proposed ordinance that would require certain businesses to maintain complex surveillance systems and place restrictions on event venues. The below quote can be attributed to Joshua Tom, ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director:
“The ACLU of Mississippi strongly opposes proposed ordinance Section 14-100 to 14-103 and urge the board of aldermen to vote no.
“The proposed ordinance imposes unnecessary burdens on businesses by codifying costly and historically ineffective surveillance requirements. As written, the proposed ordinance would require restaurants, bars, and entertainment venue owners to maintain sophisticated cameras at entry and exit doors of restrooms, for example, providing law enforcement officers with total access of that footage. This poses serious threats to constitutional rights, essentially amounting to government surveillance and discriminatory abuse.
“In addition, we are especially concerned about a section within the proposed ordinance that isolates and specifically targets a business that traditionally hosts events sponsored by and for Black citizens and students. This section imposes a strict notification window and associates fees for processing the notice. If facts and evidence support that this proposal is motivated by discriminatory purpose, if passed, the city of Oxford would be in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“While we agree that public safety is important, the proposed ordinance as written is not designed to discourage underage drinking or create a safer environment for Oxford citizens and students, but would allow government surveillance of private businesses and chilling effects on First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. We, therefore, urge the Oxford Board of Aldermen to vote no.”