After its story about how the NYPD spied on organizations for at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, the NY Times reports that the city wants to keep NYPD records sealed, in fear that the media will "fixate upon and sensationalize them." Well, that's probably too late.
The Times also reports that the city is worried the sealed information will hurt its "ability to defend itself in lawsuits over mass arrests." While the public's safety was certainly a big concern for the NYPD while preparing for the Republican National Convention, one of the issues that's being debated is whether the NYPD broke the law by spying on organizations that had no intention on breaking the law. Police cannot spy on organizations unless there is some indication of wrongdoing, and the city contends that the NYPD's action were lawful. From the NY Times:
“[The records] detail what information the N.Y.P.D. relied on in formulating its policies,” Gerald C. Smith, an assistant corporation counsel with the Law Department, wrote in a letter filed in federal court last month. He said the intelligence helped the police forecast how many people were coming to New York for the convention and had spoken about breaking the law.
Moreover, Mr. Smith wrote, the intelligence showed the city was justified in applying intensive scrutiny to the 1,806 people arrested during the convention, including fingerprinting more than a thousand people who faced charges no more serious than traffic tickets. Some were detained as long as two days for minor offenses.
Federal District Court Judge James C. Francis wrote two weeks ago, "The questions posed by these cases have great public significance. At issue is the proper relationship between the free speech rights of protesters and the means used by law enforcement officials to maintain public order.” The NYCLU says, "When the police engage in surveillance of lawful political activity it's intimidating; it's chilling. “People are not going to want to go to demonstrate if they know that big brother is in there with them."
As evinced by the comments in yesterday's post, this is an issue with many points of view. The NYCLU is holding a press conference this afternoon at 3PM to discuss what it calls the NYPD's "illegal, international campaign to monitor lawful protest planned for the 2004 Republican National Convention."
Photograph taken during one of many RNC protests by Bluejake