The advocacy group Color of Change and the Center for Constitutional Rights on Thursday filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI seeking to compel the agencies to turn over records relating to the surveillance of protesters affiliated with the Movement for Black Lives, a loose coalition of civil rights organizations.
According to a complaint filed in federal court, CoC and CCR filed a FOIA application in early July seeking information about surveillance of protests against police violence, inequities in the criminal justice system and racial inequality. The complaint demands expedited processing of the requests, as well as a fee waiver.
The complaint claims that the agencies have failed to offer a legitimate legal basis for denying the FOIA requests and that they have ignored statutory deadlines to produce the relevant documents,
Numerous media outlets have reported on government surveillance of civil rights protests over the past few years. The complaint cites a range of stories on the subject, including coverage of FEMA's monitoring of protest activity through social media posts, including geolocation data; the Chicago Police Department's alleged use of "Stringray" phone interceptor technology to block phone calls during protests; and California and federal law enforcement agencies' use of joint anti-terror infrastructure to spy on activists.
"Government is supposed to protect our rights, not suppress our freedom—and yet for decades we've seen our government engage in a number of illegal surveillance practices that do just that," said Brandi Collins, campaign director at Color Of Change, in a press release announcing the suit.
"Despite their denials, it is clear the Department of Homeland Security and FBI are continuing their disturbing legacy of employing secretive surveillance tactics with murky legal parameters to chill the Movement for Black Lives, along the way targeting individuals in a number of terrifying ways," Collins added.
Spokespeople for DHS and the FBI wrote in emails that the agencies do not comment on ongoing litigation.
The Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center at Case Western Law School is also providing counsel for the suit.