A state judge has ruled that the NYPD cannot keep secret information related to surveillance operations it carried out several years ago on Black Lives Matter protests at Grand Central Terminal, a victory for civil libertarians who had claimed the NYPD was ignoring state freedom of information rules.
The suit, brought by protester James Logue, had sought to compel the NYPD to release information on video and audio recordings collected at protests from the fall of 2014 through January 2015. Logue had originally filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the data, but the NYPD rejected the request, claiming that it needed to keep the information proprietary to protect law enforcement strategies.
Logue was in attendance at a BLM protest at Grand Central in November 2014 when he noticed uniformed and plainclothes police officers recording the proceedings. Believing these actions infringed upon protesters' First Amendment rights, he filed his FOIL request.
The NYPD had said that releasing information about surveillance would reveal information about counter-terrorism activities, particularly related to potential activities by ISIS, but the presiding judge, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Manuel Mendez, ruled that the department's claims failed "to provide a causal connection to the protesters and are insufficient to state a generic risk." He also noted that redaction could mitigate any legitimate departmental concerns about sensitive operations.
David Thompson, Logue's attorney, told the Daily News that the NYPD frequently ignores transparency laws. "Their practice is to simply deny all the requests," he said.
New York Civil Liberties Union Senior Staff Attorney Mariko Hirose applauded the decision in an email to Gothamist. "The NYPD often attempts to avoid accountability by insisting on the need for blanket secrecy. This decision ensures that the NYPD cannot shroud its operations in secrecy by relying on vague references to law enforcement interests," she wrote.
"We are reviewing the decision with the NYPD, and will respond accordingly," a Law Department spokesperson said.