The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released numerous reports of increased government spying on American citizens. Once upon an unhappy time, U.S. law enforcement agencies, from the FBI to local police, had a history of political spying during the Cold War. The ACLU said that the old political spying tendencies are running high again. Individuals and groups are being monitored and harassed for "little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights."
One ACLU report, Policing Free Speech: Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment-Protected Activity (.pdf), reveals that, in recent years, Americans have been put under surveillance or harassed by law enforcement agencies in 33 states plus the District of Columbia. What horrific acts did these Americans commit? Organizing, marching, protesting, supporting unusual viewpoints, and engaging in "normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or taking photographs in public."
The map below show states where the ACLU uncovered incidents of political spying:
In California, there were 22 reports of spying. One such example is the Los Angeles Police Department Reporting Policy which included 65 behaviors LAPD officers were required to report. "The list includes such innocuous, clearly subjective, and First Amendment-protected activities as, taking measurements, using binoculars, taking pictures or video footage 'with no apparent esthetic value,' drawing diagrams, taking notes, and espousing extremist views."
13 incidents in Colorado were reported, including one when FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) agents opened "domestic terrorism" investigations after the Colorado American Indian Movement, peace groups, and environmental groups posted notices on websites. The announcements were of an anti-war protest in Colorado Springs and a protest against Columbus Day in Denver.
In Georgia, among seven spying reports the ACLU uncovered, a vegetarian activist was arrested for writing down the license plate of a Department of Homeland Security agent who had been photographing her and others during a peaceful protest outside a Honey Baked Ham store.
In Chicago, Illinois, the FBI JTTF conducted a three-day manhunt searching for a Muslim man due to him clicking a hand counter during a bus ride. The investigation revealed he was using the hand counter to keep track of his daily prayers.
In Maine, the FBI intercepted and stored e-mails planning peaceful protests. In Massachusetts, a "plain-clothes Harvard University detective was caught photographing people at a peaceful protest for 'intelligence gathering' purposes. Protesters who then photographed the officer were arrested." In North Carolina, an honorably discharged U.S. Army woman, whose husband is on active duty, was put under Pentagon surveillance for participating in a protest at Fort Bragg.
Meanwhile, in Maryland, the "Maryland State Police spied on more than 30 activist groups, mostly peace groups and anti-death penalty advocates, and wrongly indentified 53 individual activists and about two dozen organizations as terrorists." DHS further disseminated e-mails from one of the peace groups.
There are many such surveillance reports on a national level as well. An example is when a DHS contractor reported environmental groups like the Sierra Club, the Humane Society, and the Audubon Society as “mainstream organizations with known or possible links to eco-terrorism."
An intelligence bulletin, from a DHS-supported North Central Texas Fusion System, was distributed to over 100 different agencies. It described a "purported conspiracy between Muslim civil rights organizations, lobbying groups, the anti-war movement, a former U.S. Congresswoman, the U.S. Treasury Department, and hip hop bands to spread tolerance in the U.S."
Once you unfortunately land on some kind of watchlist, it's unlikely you will ever have your name removed. One example was a Kentucky minister who had never been arrested, had never been charged with a crime, and had never participated in a protest. During a sightseeing trip, he was detained by Canadian border officials. The ministered learned he was under federal scrutiny because, immediately after September 11, he ordered books over the Internet about the Islamic religion, like the Koran, to help his congregation better understand that faith.
Does this make you sick or does it make you mad? Does this even slightly sound like America, the land of the free?
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Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. Smith has a diverse background in information technology, programming, web development, IT consulting, and information security. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.
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