ACLU of Maryland Filing Public Information Requests on Behalf of Wide Range of Advocacy Groups from Across Maryland

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
September 30, 2008 12:00 am

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ACLU of Maryland Filing Public Information Requests on Behalf of Wide Range of Advocacy Groups from Across Maryland


BALTIMORE – Pursuing the full story about covert spying on peaceful political groups by the Maryland State Police (MSP), the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland today is filing additional Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) requests on behalf of 32 advocacy groups and more than 250 individuals associated with those groups from across the state and political spectrum. The MPIA requests are being filed with the MSP, the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Office, and every local police department in places where demonstrations were held by the groups.

“History shows us that our democracy works best when the voices of people are heard, and the chilling of free speech puts our nation at risk,” said Rev. Andrew Foster Connors with Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. “The Christian Peace Witness for Iraq organizes and amplifies Christian voices for peace in cooperation with people of all faiths. I can’t for the life of me understand how a police organization would conclude that groups like ours would pose a threat to public order or safety. The real threat to the public comes from unbridled State power, which must be checked by the Maryland Legislature to ensure that this kind of spying never happens again.”

The advocacy groups being represented by the ACLU of Maryland include the Humane League of Baltimore, Maryland Coalition Against State Executions (MD CASE), Red Emma’s, Children 1st, Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, PeaceAction Montgomery, the Algebra Project, and Defend Life, to name a few.

Although their causes are vastly different, each group shares with the ACLU the belief that the strength of our democracy depends on the freedom of individuals to organize and promote their political goals, free from wrongful surveillance by law enforcement agencies.

“The sheer number and variety of groups and individuals filing the requests today provides clear evidence of the chilling effect of improper police surveillance and information collection about political organizers,” said David Rocah, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. “People have a right to be worried, given the State Police’s explanation of why they began the surveillance program. Their explanation, if true, could apply to virtually any group that organizes public demonstrations on a politically controversial issue.”

On July 17, 2008, the ACLU of Maryland made public shocking documents obtained days before through a Maryland Public Information Act lawsuit, revealing that the Maryland State Police engaged in covert surveillance of local peace and anti-death penalty groups for over a year from 2005-2006. So far, the ACLU-MD has received 43 pages of surveillance log summaries and database printouts, 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 State Police, the surveillance was undertaken because the MSP was worried about potentially disruptive or violent anti-death penalty protests in connection with upcoming executions. However, the ACLU of Maryland has pointed out that there was not the slightest factual basis for such a worry, since there had been protests at each of the previous executions in Maryland since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, and none of them were the least bit violent or disruptive.

Under the MSP’s stated rationale for their wrongful spying, most of the groups on whose behalf the Maryland ACLU is today requesting records could also have been spied upon. The MSP’s abstract and factually unfounded “concern” about disruption could exist for their demonstrations as well, leading activists to fear that they were also targeted. If these advocacy groups were not targeted, then the State Police will need to explain how they decided which groups would be targeted, which they have not done to date.

The remainder of the groups filing requests today were mentioned in the spying documents that have been disclosed to date. They want to know the full extent of the records the MSP retained about them. The Maryland ACLU also filed a request on behalf of Red Emma’s, a collectively owned political bookstore café in Baltimore, that has evidence indicating an undercover state police trooper intended to attend a lecture the group sponsored.

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