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New York City police ask to ease restrictions on political surveillance

By valeko in News
Fri Sep 27, 2002 at 09:41:07 AM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)
Freedom

According to this New York Times article, the New York Police Department submitted a request to federal court on Wedneday to ease the restrictions on their ability to carry out investigations of the political activities of groups or individuals, including demonstrations.

The restrictions are based on a consent decree signed by the city of New York in 1985. This agreement, which has come to be known as the Handschu Agreement, formally provisioned various limitations on the ability of police to carry out surveillance of political activities unless there is concrete evidence that criminal activity is present.


The limitations imposed by the Handschu agreement cover a fairly wide scope. One of the principal restrictions pertains to video surveillance; because police videotaping of political demonstrations presents an undue obstacle to the excercise of one's First Amendment rights, city police may not videotape demonstrations without prior approval from a higher authority. However, the agreement also bans the use of undercover agents to infiltrate political organisations, as well as sharing intelligence information about political groups with other law enforcement organs. To employ any of these tactics, city police must first seek prior approval from a three-person oversight panel, on which sit two police officials and one civilian appointed by the mayor.

The Handschu agreement is the product of a lawsuit filed in 1971 by various political action groups, including most notably the Black Panther Party. The suit suggested that police had infringed upon the constitutional rights of these groups with excessive and unprecedented surveillance, and demanded that city authorities be barred from spying on legitimate political organisations without proper cause, irrespective of their radicalism. The suit ultimately led to the enactment of the consent decree, which forbade police from such pursuits -- or, at any rate, attempted to heavily regulate it.

Unsurprisingly, the NYPD says that these guidelines are a relic of an era in which such privacy concerns were actually relevant, and are incompatible with the reality of today's security needs -- protecting the public from terrorism. Today, the city seeks to abolish most of the Handschu restrictions, citing them as "daunting obstacles" to their counterterrorism operations. In an affidavit accompanying the court papers filed, David Cohen, the New York Police Department's deputy commissioner for intelligence, claims that terrorists cloak themselves in the freedoms of open societies, and that in the context of the security perogatives that have appeared in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks, the city's law enforcement can no longer afford to abide by these severe restrictions. In addition, police officials observe that few other municipalities around the United States have to contend with such restrictions, and point to the recent easing of a similar consent decree in Chicago by a federal appeals court.

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New York City police ask to ease restrictions on political surveillance | 22 comments (8 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
Why doesn't this bother you more? (4.33 / 3) (#9)
by klykken on Fri Sep 27, 2002 at 07:42:50 AM EST

Are you happy with a political system where you can choose between bad (D) and worst (R), and nothing else? If you should even consider joining the socialists or hang out at a rally against the IMF, you'll see the police placing your rights aside, under cover of beeing on the lookout for "terrorists".

Yes (5.00 / 1) (#16)
by greenrd on Fri Sep 27, 2002 at 10:25:11 AM EST

And these protests aren't stuffed entirely full of radical socialists and anarchists, let's remember. Plenty of reformists there too.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

so? (5.00 / 1) (#19)
by mlc on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 02:48:06 PM EST

And these protests aren't stuffed entirely full of radical socialists and anarchists, let's remember.
I assume you aren't saying that it's okay to arrest anarchists simply for their political views, but I'm not sure what point you are making, exactly.

--
So the Berne Convention is the ultimate arbiter of truth and morality. Is this like Catholicism? -- Eight Star
[ Parent ]

They weren't arrested for their views. (none / 0) (#20)
by BSDyke on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 04:57:30 PM EST


I assume you aren't saying that it's okay to arrest anarchists simply for their political views,  


While I can't speak for the parent poster, I'm pretty sure the arrests of the anarchists had a lot less to do with their political views than their acts of vandalism and destruction.

--
Is he a dot, or is he a speck?
When he's underwater does he get wet?

[ Parent ]

Aha. (none / 0) (#21)
by mlc on Sun Sep 29, 2002 at 06:00:49 PM EST

We have a near-perfect term in English for those who cause vandalism and destruction: "vandals." I know plenty of anarchists---including many who have been arrested this weekend and at other large-scale protests---who aren't vandals. A good friend of mine, for example, was arrested while walking down the sidewalk and chanting (both of which are, at least for now, legal); eir charges were dropped when not even the arresting officer could be convinced to state that ey'd done anything wrong.

--
So the Berne Convention is the ultimate arbiter of truth and morality. Is this like Catholicism? -- Eight Star
[ Parent ]

Wish we had something lik that consent decree here (4.50 / 4) (#17)
by greenrd on Fri Sep 27, 2002 at 10:36:09 AM EST

Over here in the UK the police have no compunction about using plenty of camcorders and even infiltrating the ranks of perfectly innocent demonstrations with stooges (who are often quite easy to detect).

That's not even getting into the outrage of the police banning green get-togethers while permitting neo-Nazi-linked gatherings(!) - fortunately the last one of those was cancelled by the venue organisers (who claimed ignorance) when anti-Nazi activists publicised the fact that proceeds from it was going to be used to fund the extreme-extreme-right white supremacist group Combat 18.

Of course, the UK is far more of a "surveillance society" - street cameras to deter crime are prevalent in major cities, far more so than in the US.

I'm just going on a Critical Mass bike ride here in Lancaster in a minute - hope I won't get recorded and noted down as a "potential future terrorist" for riding my bike in a "subversive group of more than 10 cyclists" ;)


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes

Silly. (4.40 / 5) (#18)
by zipper on Fri Sep 27, 2002 at 11:38:47 AM EST

The NY Times article basically boils down to the two major restrictions of the agreement (you can't infiltrate without approval from a 3 person committee, and you can't share information with other agencies) and the NYPD whining about how that's stopping it from doing its job.

They should be allowed to share information with other law enforcement agencies, I'm sure somewhere along the line there was a reason for the restriction that I can't think of... but aside from that it's a concession I'd be willing to make..

The issue of consent of the Handschu Authority is absolutely crucial though. The NYPD complaining about it making it harder for them to protect the city against terrorism is roughly analogous to police complaining about having to get an arrest warrant before arresting somebody.

What, we need evidence?

---
This account has been neutered by rusty and can no longer rate or post comments. Way to go fearless leader!
A very timely article (5.00 / 2) (#22)
by Skwirl on Mon Sep 30, 2002 at 02:36:07 AM EST

Wow. This article could only have been more timely for me if I'd actually bothered to read it before going to Critical Mass on Friday. The Portland Police were there in spades with camcorders in order to record evidence of petty violations.
because police videotaping of political demonstrations presents an undue obstacle to the excercise of one's First Amendment rights
This point cannot be made strongly enough. The police were not videotaping us for our safety. They videotape us because they disagree with our political views. Guess what? If the police follow you with a video camera long enough they will find you doing something illegal. It doesn't matter how law abiding and cautious you are, they will find you violating some petty rule. Forget jaywalking or accidently running a yellow light or missing a traffic sign: Here in Portland, it's illegal to loiter on the sidewalks. There are a million tiny rules for you to break. I'd be quite surprised if anyone reading this didn't break one today.

So, they videotaped me because I was exerting my First Amendment rights and my right to the road as a bicyclist. They believe they found me committing a crime and they pretended that they were teaching me a lesson about yellow lights. Bullshit. The only lesson they taught me is that I need to fight with all my strength and conviction for my rights if we're going to save the Constitution of the United States of America.

--
"Nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself." -- Herman Hesse

New York City police ask to ease restrictions on political surveillance | 22 comments (8 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
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