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Federal judge restricts NYPD videotaping of lawful protests

[JURIST] US District Judge Charles S. Haight ruled [opinion, PDF; ACLU-NY press release] Thursday that the New York Police Department (NYPD) [official website] must stop its practice of videotaping lawful public gatherings and preserving the videotapes and adhere to the so-called "Modified Handschu Guidelines" developed by prior court rulings, which govern police surveillance. Haight is responsible for overseeing the terms of a settlement in a 1985 class action lawsuit over the NYPD's investigation techniques, and in 2003 ruled that police were permitted to "attend any event open to the public, on the same terms and conditions of the public generally." Haight admitted in Thursday's ruling that "the text of [the prior] opinion and its implementing order... [did] not constitute a model of clarity," but found that the police department had "no discernible justification for the apparently disregard" of the guidelines, which requires the NYPD to conduct investigations of political activity "under the supervision of the Intelligence Division...[and with] the express written approval of the Deputy Commissioner, Intelligence."

Jethro M. Eisenstein, one of the lawyers that represented the class challenging the videotaping, told the New York Times that the ruling makes it possible to challenge the legality of other surveillance practices such as the use of undercover agents at political gatherings. Arthur Eisenberg, legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website], characterized the decision [press release] as "[restoring] the proper limits" of videotaped surveillance. The New York Times has more.

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