A recent study released by the civil liberties advocacy group highlights the rise in U.S. government Big Brother policies by localizing the National Security State with no accountability.

Politically motivated domestic surveillance and harassment are surging in the U.S., a recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) found. Though recent reports have indicated the military is taking a Bush Administration spy program out of hibernation—of datamining information collected through domestic surveillance policies—the civil liberties group added that local agencies and private corporation are violating rights to privacy and free speech with impunity.

The release of the report, “Policing Free Speech: Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment‐Protected Activity” [.pdf], coincides with the civil liberties advocacy group’s launch of “Spy Files“, a “web hub on domestic political surveillance, which will serve as a comprehensive resource on domestic spying”, according to a statement.

“It will include a database of documents obtained through state and federal open-records requests as well as links to news reports and other relevant materials,” it added.

Analyzing 111 incidents in 33 states, the group found that all levels of law enforcement are abusing weak standards of probable cause to meet low burdens of proof to threaten and spy on people. The government’s policies result in harassing, surveying and kidnapping people “for doing little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights” displays a regression of basic human rights defense, according to the A.C.L.U., which added:

Political spying—rampant during the Cold War under the F.B.I.’s COINTELPRO, the C.I.A.’s Operation Chaos and other programs—has experienced a steady resurgence in the years following 9/11 as state and local law enforcement are being urged by federal law enforcement agencies to participate in counterterrorism 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,” said Michael German, A.C.L.U. Policy Counsel and former F.B.I. Special Agent. “Unfortunately, law enforcement in our country seems to be reverting to certain old, bad behaviors when it comes to political surveillance. Our review of these practices has found that 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 such as writing notes or taking photographs in public.”

Community policing projects—“suspicious activity reporting” (S.A.R.) programs [.pdf]—are expanding the reach of what the U.S. Supreme Court called the “reasonable suspicion” standard, a “Spy Files” post adds:

S.A.R. programs increase the probability that innocent people will be stopped by police and have their personal information collected for inclusion in law enforcement and intelligence data bases. They also open the door to racial profiling and other improper police practices by giving police unwarranted discretion to stop people who are not reasonably suspected of wrongdoing.


The Supreme Court established “reasonable suspicion” as the standard for police stops in Terry v. Ohio in 1968. This standard required suspicion supported by articulable facts suggesting criminal activity was afoot before a policeman could stop a person for investigative purposes. Likewise, the Department of Justice established a reasonable suspicion standard for the inclusion of personally identifiable information into criminal intelligence systems. Title 28, Part 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations states that law enforcement agencies receiving federal funds:

shall collect and maintain criminal intelligence information concerning an individual only if there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal conduct or activity and the information is relevant to that criminal conduct or activity [emphasis added].

S.A.R. programs threaten this reasonable, time-tested law enforcement standard by encouraging the police and the public to report behaviors that are not reasonably indicative of criminal or terrorist behavior.

In January 2008 the D.N.I. [Information Sharing Environment (I.S.E.)] Program Manager published functional standards for state and local law enforcement officers to report ‘suspicious’ activities to fusion centers and to the federal intelligence community through the I.S.E. The behaviors it described as inherently suspicious included such innocuous activities as photography, acquisition of expertise, and eliciting informationThe following March the Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D.) initiated its own S.A.R. program to “gather, record, and analyze information of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism,” and included a list of 65 behaviors L.A.P.D. officers “shall” report, which included taking pictures or video footage, taking notes, drawing diagrams and espousing extreme views. In June 2008, long before either of these programs could be evaluated, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security teamed up with the Major City Chiefs Association to issue a report recommending expanding the S.A.R. program to other U.S. cities. (Indeed, in April 2009 the L.A.P.D. admitted its S.A.R. program had not foiled any terrorist threats during its first year in operation.) The F.B.I. began its own S.A.R. collection program called eGuardian in 2008, and in 2010 the military announced it would implement a S.A.R. program through eGuardian.

Programs like COINTELPRO, Operation Chaos, the Denver Police Department labeling a Nobel Peace Prize-winning Quaker organization and a 73-year-old nun as “criminal extremists,” and a case—just settled this week—of an antiwar activist being spied on and arrested on false charges to keep him from attending a protest are “quickly becoming a dime a dozen”, Amanda Simon posted today at the A.C.L.U. Blog of Rights.

In a separate post, describing the objective of “Spy Files”, the A.C.L.U. stated these policies are “directed at all of us” and the motivations are politically manufactured fear. They are not isolated to federal law enforcement, military intelligence and foreign intelligence agencies, but extend to local agencies—even those unrelated to law enforcement:

Today the government is spying on Americans in ways the founders of our country never could have imagined. The FBI, federal intelligence agencies, the military, state and local police, private companies, and even firemen and emergency medical technicians are gathering incredible amounts of personal information about ordinary Americans that can be used to construct vast dossiers that can be widely shared with a simple mouse-click through new institutions like Joint Terrorism Task Forces, fusion centers, and public-private partnerships. The fear of terrorism has led to a new era of overzealous police intelligence activity directed, as in the past, against political activists, racial and religious minorities, and immigrants.

This surveillance activity is not directed solely at suspected terrorists and criminals. It’s directed at all of us. Increasingly, the government is engaged in suspicionless surveillance that vacuums up and tracks sensitive information about innocent people. Even more disturbingly, as the government’s surveillance powers have grown more intrusive and more powerful, the restrictions on many of those powers have been weakened or eliminated. And this surveillance often takes place in secret, with little or no oversight by the courts, by legislatures, or by the public.

“Spy Files” has a section where users can monitor government “spying on First Amendment activity” cases by state.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by LittleAlex and kyn skeldr. kyn skeldr said: RT @libertyideals: A.C.L.U. Finds ?Steady Resurgence? of ?Political Spying?, Kidnapping of Americans #libertarian http://bit.ly/bM0DQB […]

  2. stuartbramhall says:

    Gee, in the eighties and nineties it used to be only hard core militants and aggressive whistleblowers that got personal government attention. Somehow the fact that it’s happening to a lot of us makes me feel a little less lonely. I write about my own close encounter (starting in 1987) with US intelligence in my recent memoir THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE (I currently live in exile in New Zealand)

  3. […] is Staying Right Here 30 June 2010 EditorsEvening Briefing—29th June 2010 30 June 2010 EditorsA.C.L.U. Finds ‘Steady Resurgence’ of ‘Political Spying’, Kidnapping of Americans 29 June 2010 Little AlexReport: Toronto Police Molested Female G-20 Captives (Video) 29 June 2010 […]

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