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    ACLU-Maryland: Lawsuit Uncovers Maryland State Police Spying Against Peace and Anti-Death Penalty Groups

    Disclosure: I am a Visiting Scholar at the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program.

    The ACLU of Maryland has learned “that the Maryland State Police (MSP) engaged in covert surveillance of local peace and anti-death penalty groups for over a year from 2005-2006.” Documents turned over to the ACLU-Md via a Maryland Public Information Act lawsuit revealed the spying. The surveillance was detailed “in 43 pages of summaries and computer logs, none of which refer to criminal or even potentially criminal acts, other than a few isolated references to plans for completely nonviolent civil disobedience,” according to the ACLU-Md.

    “Americans have the right to peaceably assemble with others of a like mind and speak out about what they believe in. For undercover police officers to spend hundreds of hours entering information about lawful political protest activities into a criminal database is an unconscionable waste of taxpayer dollars and does nothing to make us safer from actual terrorists or drug dealers,” said David Rocah, Staff Attorney for ACLU-Md.

    The Washington Post reports, “Organizational meetings, public forums, prison vigils, rallies outside the State House in Annapolis and e-mail group lists were infiltrated by police posing as peace activists and death penalty opponents, the records show. The surveillance continued even though the logs contained no reports of illegal activity and consistently indicated that the activists were not planning violent protests.”

    The Maryland State Police defend their actions as legal investigations, the Washington Post reports:

    “No illegal actions by State Police have ever been taken against any citizens or groups who have exercised their right to free speech and assembly in a lawful manner,” Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, the state police superintendent appointed last year by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), said in a statement. “Only when information regarding criminal activity is alleged will police continue to investigate leads to ensure the public safety.”

    State Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), who teaches constitutional law at American University, called the surveillance “extremely dubious homeland security work.” But he added that it is probably a constitutional use of police powers to conduct undercover work.

    I previously blogged about attempts by the FBI to infiltrate Republican National Convention protesters and discussed the publicly condemned domestic surveillance program, COINTELPRO. From 1956 to 1971, the FBI abused its investigatory powers to harass and disrupt political opponents. Congressional investigations revealed that the FBI built dossiers on groups suspected of having a Communist ideology even though they had not engaged in crimes, including the NAACP, and the agency burglarized political groups to gather data on them.

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