ACLU Urges CA Attorney General to Stop State Monitoring of War Protestors and Other Political Dissenters

May 20, 2003 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO – The American Civil Liberties Union today called on Attorney General Bill Lockyer to direct a state anti-terrorism intelligence agency to stop compiling dossiers on political activists and organizations, including anti-war, animal rights, and environmental groups.

A story in Sunday’s Oakland Tribune revealed that the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center (CATIC), which was established after the 9/11 attacks, has from “Day One” been equating political dissent with terrorism.

“The revelations in the Oakland Tribune story confirm our worse fears: CATIC is not only being used to gather and disseminate information about non-violent protestors but equates peaceful protest with terrorism itself,” said Mark Schlosberg, Police Practices Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California.

“For the past year-and-a-half, we’ve been warning the Attorney General about the grave dangers to our basic freedoms posed by loosened standards for intelligence gathering and CATIC. It is now time for the Attorney General to take strong action to protect Californian’s rights to free speech, assembly, and privacy,” he said.

According to the Tribune, an April 2 bulletin from CATIC “offered more innuendo than actual evidence” of violence at a planned anti-war protest at the Port of Oakland. Apparently acting on that information, police fired rubber bullets, wooden pellets, and tear gas at non-violent protesters and dockworkers in an incident that drew national attention and criticism.

A video of the episode may be viewed online at

In its letter, the ACLU called upon the Attorney General to:

  1. Immediately direct CATIC to cease collecting information on individuals and organizations engaging in non-violent protest activity and order CATIC systems to be purged of such information.
  2. Immediately develop guidelines to ensure that CATIC is used only for disseminating information on true terrorist activity. The CATIC website states that only “reliable information that meets stringent guidelines for intelligence gathering and civil rights protections will be made available only to authorized local, state and federal law enforcement personnel as necessary to protect the health and safety of Californians and others at risk from criminal terrorist activity.” As evidenced in the Oakland Tribune article, this clearly is not the case. Guidelines that must be implemented include a definition of terrorism that is narrowly drawn and not so expansive as to include any activity that has an economic impact as well as clear regulations stating that political and social affiliations or beliefs not be considered in determining whom to input into the CATIC system.
  3. Immediately issue guidance to state and local law enforcement agencies (as has been requested on three previous occasions) stating clearly that, pursuant to California’s constitutional right to privacy, law enforcement agents may not surveil or monitor individuals or organizations engaged in peaceful protest activity in the absence of reasonable suspicion.

In a series of letters to the Attorney General, the ACLU has been calling upon the state’s top law enforcement officer to ensure that Californian’s right to privacy is protected. More than 30 years ago, Californians explicitly adopted by referendum a constitutional right to privacy specifically to stop the “proliferation of government snooping and data collecting [that] is threatening to destroy our traditional freedoms.” White v. Davis (1975) 13 Cal.3d 757, 774 (quoting the ballot argument in favor of the initiative).

The Oakland incident was highlighted in a recent ACLU report, “Freedom Under Fire: Dissent in Post-9/11 America,” which describes how some government officials, including local police, have gone to extraordinary lengths to squelch dissent wherever it has sprung up, drawing on a breathtaking array of tactics – from censorship and surveillance to detention, denial of due process and excessive force. The report is online at /node/11520

The letter is online at /node/22852

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