Friday, January 9, 2009

Surveillance saga continues/Sign up for Lobby Night,0,899492.story

Surveillance saga continues

Our view: State police owe victims, public a fuller accounting of their misguided actions; there's more to this spying business than the agency has divulged

January 9, 2009

It's the story that won't go away. Like peeling back layers of an onion, almost every month we learn more about the Maryland State Police's indefensible program to collect information on peaceful activist groups. Also much like an onion, the whole thing stinks.

Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, state police superintendent, has acknowledged that the surveillance activities were wrong. But words must be matched by deeds, and his agency has been less than forthcoming about this unpleasant episode in its recent history.

It was troubling enough, when the story first broke over the summer, to learn that local activists had apparently been spied upon during protests at the National Security Agency. It was quickly revealed that far more was involved than keeping tabs on a handful of protesters at a few events.

A layer was peeled back in July, when the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland released documents revealing hundreds of hours of surveillance against anti-war and anti-death-penalty advocates during 2005 and 2006. Worse, dozens of activists were labeled as terrorists in law enforcement databases.

In October, activists discovered that the spy operation lasted longer than state police originally said, and that environmentalists were also targeted. November's revelation was that the spying continued through 2007 and possibly later.


Now, the latest: An even wider variety of organizations, from Amnesty International to a group fighting Maryland utility rate increases, apparently had their activities monitored and documented. The ACLU has obtained many documents through the state public information act and lawsuits, and may make them available to the public soon.


A report by former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs concluded that state police were "misguided" and recommended changes, including such common-sense steps as a ban on surveillance of activist groups in the absence of serious suspicion of a crime. Colonel Sheridan, to his credit, has pledged to adopt the recommendations. Legislation in the General Assembly session is sure to follow soon.


A good first move, though, would be for the state police to put an end to the dribble of revelations over the past seven months by fully opening up the files on its misbegotten surveillance program, rather than releasing highly redacted documents that present more questions than answers. The ACLU has done yeoman work, but it should not have to continue to sue a state agency for information that the public - or at the very least, the victims of improper spying - rightly deserves.


Copyright© 2009, The Baltimore Sun


Maryland needs a law protecting our First Amendment Rights! And we need YOU in Annapolis on Feb 9 to join the call for legislation.


Are you outraged over Maryland State Police spying on peaceful activists expressing their First Amendment right to organize and protest?


Do you agree that free government depends upon the ability of all its people to speak their minds without fear of political sanction?


Then join us in Annapolis to lobby your State Senators and Delegates for ³no spying² legislation. We need a bill to prohibit the MSP or any law enforcement agency from spying on peaceful activists, covertly infiltrating their gatherings, compiling dossiers on them and their beliefs in criminal intelligence databases, absent reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.  Maryland has no law prohibiting such conduct offensive to our most basic democratic values.


Lobby night will take place on Monday, February 9, from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm in Annapolis. A rally will be held at 5:30 pm on Lawyer¹s Mall, then legislator-constituent meetings will take place from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. In between or after your meetings stop by our reception room in the President's Conference Center East I, Miller Senate Building for snacks and to report on your meetings.


The ACLU will set up legislator meetings, provide a short lobby training, talking points and materials to all participants.  RSVP to so we can sign you up today!


Go online to learn more about MSP spying and the call for legislation:


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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