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When Free Speech Isn't Really Free

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January 20, 2011

When is free speech not really free? (This isn’t a riddle, unfortunately.)

It’s when your First Amendment-protected rights are subject to unlawful government surveillance. Since 9/11, law enforcement agencies across America have continued to monitor and harass groups and individuals for doing little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights.

If you’re a death penalty protestor peacefully calling for an end to capital punishment in Maryland, you were spied upon by the state police.

If you’re a Cal State Fresno student interested in veganism, undercover officers from the county sheriff’s department monitored a speech you attended .

And if you’re an anti-gas-drilling activist in Pennsylvania like Virginia Cody, you might be monitored by the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security:

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Last year, we released a report (PDF) that revealed that these kinds of law enforcement behaviors — monitoring, infiltrating and spying — have taken place in at least 33 states plus the District of Columbia in recent years. This equals countless Americans being put under surveillance or harassed by the police just for deciding to organize, march, protest, espouse controversial viewpoints, and engage in normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or taking photographs in public.

So who’s watching you? Find out for yourself.