By: David Kravets
Welcome to the surveillance society.
That’s what the American Civil Liberties Union concluded Tuesday with a report chronicling government spying and the detention of groups and individuals “for doing little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights.”
The report, Policing Free Speech: Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment-Protected Activity (.pdf), surveys news accounts and studies of questionable snooping and arrests in 33 states and the District of Columbia over the past decade.
The survey provides an outline of, and links to, dozens of examples of Cold War-era snooping in the modern age.
“Our review of these practices has found that Americans have been put under surveillance or harassed by the police just for deciding to organize, march, protest, espouse unusual viewpoints and engage in normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or taking photographs in public,” Michael German, an ACLU attorney and former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, said in a statement.
Here are a few examples:
At a California State University, Fresno lecture on veganism, six of the 60 in attendance were undercover officers from the local and campus police. The Oakland Police Department in California had infiltrated a police-brutality demonstration, and its undercover officers selected “the route of the march.”
A vegetarian activist in Georgia was arrested for jotting down the license plate of a Department of Homeland Security agent who was snapping photos of a protest outside a Honey Baked Ham store. A Joint Terrorism Task Force in Illinois went on a three-day manhunt in Chicago searching for a Muslim man for his suspicious activity of using a hand counter on a bus. As it turned out, the man was counting his daily prayers.
A Kentucky minister was detained at Canadian border trying to enter the United States because he had purchased copies of the Koran on the internet following the 2001 terror attacks. A New York, Muslim-American student journalist was detained for taking pictures of Old Glory outside a Veterans Affairs building as part of a class project. The authorities deleted the pictures before releasing her an hour later.