ACLU finds incidents of political surveillance increasing

ACLU finds incidents of political surveillance increasing

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[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] reported Tuesday that there have been more than 100 incidents of political surveillance [report, PDF; press release] and harassment by authorities in 33 states since 9/11 [JURIST news archive]. The report is broken down by state and lists incidents ranging from undercover police officers attending protests to authorities arresting individuals for taking pictures of police activity and government buildings. The report compares current surveillance practices to those conducted during the Cold War era [BBC backgrounder] by the FBI and CIA. ACLU Policy Counsel Michael German criticized these practices:

In our country, under our Constitution, the authorities aren’t allowed to spy on you unless they have specific and individual suspicion that you are doing something illegal. Unfortunately, law enforcement in our country seems to be reverting to certain old, bad behaviors when it comes to political surveillance. … Americans have been put under surveillance or harassed by the police just for deciding to organize, march, protest, espouse unusual viewpoints and engage in normal, innocuous behaviors…

California had the highest reported frequency of surveillance activities with 22 separate incidents, many involving undercover police infiltrating political activist group meetings to gather intelligence regarding possible terrorism threats.

The report cited incidents of cross-country surveillance where undercover police officers infiltrated groups that were planning to attend protests during the 2004 Republican National Convention (RNC). Earlier this month, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled that the city of New York could withhold documents related to their surveillance practices [JURIST report] that led to the arrest of 1,800 protesters during the convention. The court found that the documents needed to remain confidential because their release could compromise future surveillance efforts.