The NYCLU today hosted the annual Lasker Callaway Awards Event. Each year we take time to honor individuals, groups or organizations that have made significant and lasting contributions to civil liberties. This year, our honorees are the Brooklyn Museum of Art, for the 44th annual Florina Lasker Award for courage and integrity in the defense of civil liberties, and Jason Catlett, President of Junkbusters.com, for the Joseph Callaway Award for protection of the right to privacy. Both Junkbusters.com and the Brooklyn Museum, under the leadership of Director Arnold Lehman and Board of Trustees Chair Robert Rubin, have demonstrated important commitments to civil liberties during the past year, and we are thrilled to have them accept our awards.
Florina Lasker Award: The Brooklyn Museum of Art
The Florina Lasker Civil Liberties Award has been presented annually by the NYCLU since 1957 to an individual, organization or group having displayed consistent and outstanding courage in the defense of civil liberties, whether in the performance of duty, or above and beyond the requirements of duty, and by doing so has made a constructive and significant contribution to civil liberties.
Past recipients include Eleanor Holmes Norton, Haywood Burns, William Sloan Coffin, Faye Wattleton, Arthur Kinoy, Anita Hill, the Weavers, Sister Helen Prejean, Governor Mario Cuomo, Judge Robert L. Carter, and Harry Belafonte.
Last October, the controversy over The Brooklyn Museum's exhibition "Sensation" captured the attention of almost every New Yorker, as well as many people outside New York. When New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani attempted to penalize the Museum (www.brooklynart.org) for exhibiting artwork that offended him by threatening to withdraw all city funding and to evict the Museum from its city-owned premises -- which it has occupied for 106 years -- he demonstrated a severe lack of respect for and understanding of the First Amendment.
We congratulate the Brooklyn Museum's Board of Trustees, Robert Rubin, Chair, and Director Arnold Lehman, on their courage and fortitude. They refused to succumb to the Mayor's ill-conceived threats, and they won. In April, the lawsuits surrounding the exhibit were settled. The City agreed not to cut any of the Museum's funding, and the Museum will be protected from any future retaliation by an agreement that the Giuliani Administration will not impose any funding cuts that are disproportionately larger than those affecting other major city-supported museums. The lawsuit to evict the Museum and the threat to replace the Board of Trustees were withdrawn.
The First Amendment issues involved in this controversy are extremely important. If the Mayor had succeeded in closing down the exhibition, and the Museum's Board of Trustees had not fought back, the precedent set by the case would have been devastating. Artistic freedom would have suffered greatly. It is not overreacting to realize that "offensive" books in our public libraries could easily have been the next target.
First Amendment principles embracing the concept of academic freedom ultimately barred the Mayor from using the power of the purse to dictate the views conveyed in "Sensation." Just as academic judgements are left to academics, curatorial judgements must be left to curators.
The Board of Trustees of the Brooklyn Museum fought the censorship and stood up for the principles of the First Amendment in a way that reflects on all of our lives as Americans and as New Yorkers. A core principle of our Constitution is that the government may not act to stifle any point of view. But if people don't stand up and speak out to ensure that these rights are maintained, they can so easily be lost. The Brooklyn Museum rose to the occasion.
Joseph Callaway Prize: Junkbusters.com
The Joseph Callaway Prize for Protection of the Right to Privacy has been presented annually by the NYCLU since 1992 to an individual or group that has contributed significantly to the defense or advancement of personal privacy rights against intrusion by government or others.
Past recipients include Dr. Matilde Krim, Robin Shahar, Joe Steffan, Justice Harry A. Blackmun, Dr. M. Jocelyn Elders, Dr. Irving Rust, the Honorable Patricia Schroeder, and Arthur Miller.
Perhaps less well known but equally important is the work of Jason Catlett and his company, Junkbusters.com (www.junkbusters.com). Founded in 1996, Junkbusters Corporation is a small, privately-held, for-profit "virtual corporation," whose mission is "to free the world from junk communications." Catlett is a leading authority on privacy and marketing, and has testified on privacy issues before the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce. We have chosen to honor Jason Catlett with the Callaway Award because of his work fighting for the privacy rights of Internet and e-mail users.
Jason Catlett successfully led the opposition to two very insidious threats to Internet privacy. One was the on-line advertising network Doubleclick's proposed merger with junk mail database company Abacus Direct, which would have permitted the synchronization of on-line and off-line data and thus provided the merged company with "a surveillance database of Orwellian proportions." The other is Intel Corporation's inclusion of an identifying "Processor Serial Number" in their Pentium III processor chips, which provided any web site desiring to track visitors with a link to the visitor's off-line name and address, and web behavior, among other registration, e-mail and e-commerce information. In both cases, Junkbusters targeted managers of leading socially responsible mutual investment firms with open letters asking them to divest from the offending companies. Largely as a result of this opposition, Doubleclick announced a moratorium on tracking by name in March, and in late April, Intel announced that, while it would not remove the Processor Serial Number from the Pentium III chip, it would not include it in the successor chip.
Sneaky marketing tactics such as these have been deployed by many on-line companies, almost always beneath the radar of the general public. The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission have both been conspicuously silent when it comes to objections, preferring to rely on industry self-regulation. As Catlett puts it, this is "like the EPA saying that chemical factories should be allowed to choose their own pollution levels."
The point is, we cannot rely on our government to maintain our civil rights for us. We, as individuals, must continually speak up for ourselves. And so, the NYCLU Lasker Callaway Awards honor those who have done just that.