ACLU Sues Pentagon for Files on University of California Student Groups

March 7, 2006 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO — The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California today filed a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on behalf of University of California student groups whose anti-war activities may have been monitored by the Pentagon.

The ACLU is seeking expedited processing and release of all documents maintained by the Department of Defense on the groups, including records in the Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) report system and database.

“With mounting public concern over the government’s expanded domestic surveillance activities, it is critical that the Department of Defense act quickly and disclose all information it has collected on these student organizations and their members,” said Dorothy Ehrlich, Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California.

On February 1, the ACLU of Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Guardian filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on behalf of UC Santa Cruz Students Against War and the UC Berkeley Stop the War Coalition. On February 13, the Department of Defense denied the request for expedited processing. Today’s lawsuit challenges the government’s denial.

“The Department of Defense has already told Congress that information about protest activities was inappropriately included in the TALON database,” said Mark Schlosberg, Police Practices Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California. “Therefore, the students who participated in these demonstrations deserve to be told why their activities were included in a terrorist database, what information was collected, and who it was shared with.”

ACLU of Northern California cooperating attorney Amitai Schwartz added: “There is no legal justification for delaying the processing of this FOIA request. The students and the public have a right to prompt public disclosure about this spying program.”

The University of California students first discovered they were listed in the Pentagon’s secret TALON database through an MSNBC news report in December. Following public outcry over the Pentagon domestic spying program, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England issued a memorandum on January 13, 2006, directing intelligence personnel to receive “refresher training on the policies for collection, retention, dissemination and use of information related to U.S. persons.”

On January 27, the Defense Department sent a letter to Congress saying that the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), responsible for maintaining the database, “has removed the TALON reports on demonstrations and anti-base activity from the database. The process to remove other reports that are no longer analytically significant is ongoing.”

Last month, the national ACLU filed a similar FOIA request on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee, Veterans for Peace, United for Peace and Justice and Greenpeace. In Georgia, Rhode Island, Maine and Pennsylvania, ACLU affiliates are also seeking Pentagon files on local groups.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Lead attorneys in the case are Schwartz and cooperating attorney Lisa Sitkin.

The complaint is online at

Konstanty Hordynski, a UC Santa Cruz student who found out he was listed in the TALON database, tells his story in a “Faces of Surveillance” feature online at

More information on the national ACLU’s efforts to uncover spying on innocent Americans is online at

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