Thursday, May 17, 2007

More on the NYPD's Domestic and International Spying Program

Back in March of 2007, it came out the that the NYPD was spying on people in the US and abroad before the 2004 NYC RNC. They sent officers posing as activists to infiltrate groups conducting, in most cases, perfectly legal, but Republican-unfriendly, activities. One of my favorite quotes from a NYTimes article at the time (ref'd in the link above):

“It was a running joke that some of the new faces were 25- to 32-year-old males asking, ‘First name, last name?’ ” Mr. Ceglie said. “Some people didn’t care; it bothered me and a couple of other leaders, but we didn’t want to make a big stink because we didn’t want to look paranoid. We applied to the F.B.I. under the Freedom of Information Act to see if there’s a file, but the answer came back that ‘we cannot confirm or deny.’ ”
The NYPD really didn't want the files detailing the spying, the DD5 reports, made public. Thanks to suits from the New York Civil Liberties Union and the NYTimes, a federal judge yesterday released about 600 pages of documents detailing some of the NYPD's spying activities:

On May 4, the magistrate judge, James C. Francis IV, granted a request by the New York Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times to make the documents public, but also granted a 10-day stay to give the city time to file an appeal.

But in a letter to the judge dated Tuesday, a lawyer for the city, Peter G. Farrell, wrote that the city would not appeal, “in light of the documents’ prior disclosure and corresponding press coverage.”

And that's a big part of why we are supposed to have a free press. City officials never wanted this to see the light of day. A free press is there to expose and deter government abuses. I regularly complain about the Times, but kudos to them on this one.

This isn't over. More documents are out there and the city is still acting the bully, but it's a start:

Civil rights lawyers have said that the records show that the police monitored many law-abiding citizens who were engaged in legally protected activities.

“This is an important first step toward exposing the N.Y.P.D.’s surveillance of political groups planning demonstrations at the convention,” said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“There are many more documents that remain secret, however, and this controversy will continue until the city releases all the documents.”

The judge also suggested that “the city might consider whether or not they want to proceed” with its request for a special inquiry into the sources for a New York Times article about the surveillance program.

City lawyers initially accused the civil liberties union lawyers of leaking the information, then dropped that charge and conceded that they did not know who had provided the

In his letter to the judge, Mr. Farrell wrote that the city will continue to seek “relief due to the disclosure of the intelligence documents in violation of the protective order,” under which the records were once sealed.

Just what kinds of activities were the police spying on? Again, from a post in March:
These included members of street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies. Three New York City elected officials were cited in the reports.
Remember this is the same NYPD, under Bloomberg, who went over the top with arrests and detentions during the 2004 RNC itself:
Moreover, Mr. Smith wrote, the intelligence showed the city was justified in applying intensive scrutiny to the 1,806 people arrested during the convention, including fingerprinting more than a thousand people who faced charges no more serious than traffic tickets. Some were detained as long as two days for minor offenses.
If there is something in those DD5's that warrants that kind of KGB-like abuse of power, we have every right to now.