MissionFounded in 1920, the American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public interest organization devoted exclusively to protecting the basic human rights and civil liberties of all people in the United States, and extending these liberties to groups that have traditionally been denied them. The ACLU, with an affiliate in every state and region of the country, fights for justice at the international, national, state, and local levels. Since their founding, they have been at the forefront of virtually every legal battle for human rights and civil liberties in the United States. Much of the ACLU’s legal work frames the issues for judges, asking them to apply law, including international law, to prevent government overreaching. The ACLU and its affiliates employ over 240 staff attorneys, who are supported by thousands of volunteer attorneys across the country. Their national office is engaged in 250 cases at any one time; when national cases are combined with affiliate cases, they are typically involved in approximately 2,000 cases. In their 94 years of existence, the ACLU has become recognized as the country’s foremost advocate of individual rights. They have more than 500,000 dues-paying members, 830,000 online activists, and hundreds of thousands of social media followers.
Geographic focusUnited States, with our national security and human rights work having broader impact beyond the US.
Programme areasThe ACLU uses human rights as a vehicle to promote our national security work, often collaborating with international partners to pressure the U.S. government on issues such as torture and surveillance. When they succeed, they typically generate international debate and movement that advances human rights in Europe.
For example, for years following 9/11 and the subsequent revelations of the Abu Ghraib prison, they were the single organization doggedly committed to obtaining public records regarding U.S. involvement in torture and “extraordinary rendition,” or cross-border kidnapping. The evidence they secured enabled our client Khalid El-Masri—the German citizen who was mistaken for another person, abducted, handed over to the CIA, and secretly detained and tortured for four months—to win a historic vindication from the European Court of Human Rights. All 17 judges of the court unanimously found that his abusive treatment at the hands of the U.S. rendition team amounted to torture and his abduction and detention constituted “enforced disappearance” under international law. We also provided documentation and expert support for efforts in Poland that resulted in charges brought against Poland’s former chief of intelligence for his complicity in the CIA’s rendition and secret imprisonment of terrorism suspects there. This advocacy—seeking transparency and accountability for U.S. complicity in torture—continues.
The ACLU has a lengthy history defending the right to privacy and is the lead U.S. organization now working to expose and challenge U.S. dragnet surveillance. Their current program includes legal representation of U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden (who recently testified before the European Parliament) and extensive international advocacy to curtail surveillance.
They are a leading member of the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO), a cooperative group of domestic human rights organizations worldwide that seeks to make global impact by identifying and addressing domestic civil liberties issues that are on the rise across the globe, such as dragnet surveillance, restrictions on religious freedom, and the criminalization of protest.