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A Win for Free Speech: ACLU Recommendations Adopted by DHS!

Robyn Greene,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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August 26, 2011

The ACLU just scored a big win for freedom of speech from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). More than 2 years ago we filed a complaint with the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (OCRCL) concerning an effort to collect and distribute information about lawful demonstrations. Earlier this month, we received a letter from OCRCL letting us know that they have resolved our complaint, and are adopting our recommendations!

In 2006, DHS Federal Protective Service (FPS) distributed a Protective Intelligence Bulletin to local law enforcement detailing information about dozens of peaceful activist groups. The bulletin was entitled “Civil Activists and Extremists Action Calendar,” and provided information on over 70 demonstrations, almost entirely peace, environmental and social justice rallies and marches where no violence or other criminal activity was expected.

We were particularly concerned about this “action calendar” because this type of government monitoring and tracking of lawful demonstrations and political speech can have a chilling effect on Americans’ exercise of their rights to free speech and assembly. Protection from this type of government monitoring is exactly the reason why the First and Fourth Amendments were adopted. In order to address our concerns, we filed a complaint with OCRCL.

In March, we received a letter from OCRCL indicating that FPS had acted within its authority when monitoring and collecting data on the non-violent political activities of advocacy groups. In response to this finding, we wrote a blog, highlighting our concerns about OCRCL’s conclusions on this matter. After seeing our blog, OCRCL decided to take another look at our complaint, and it concluded that DHS will adopt our recommended reforms, and that FPS will no longer distribute this type of information on a regional or national basis. We thank OCRCL for their willingness to review this matter and resolve the issue favorably.

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