Activists Want More Answers about State Police Surveillance Files - Southern Maryland Headline News

Activists Want More Answers about State Police Surveillance Files


BALTIMORE (Nov. 19, 2008) - After reviewing the heavily redacted files of peaceful activists listed as suspected terrorists by the Maryland State Police, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland criticized the agency Wednesday morning for failing to provide full disclosure of its surveillance activities.

The files were "riddled with errors," and some of the activists listed as suspected terrorists had never attended a protest or done any direct organizing in Maryland, said David Rocah, staff attorney with the ACLU.

The advocacy group also said some of the activists' files had been modified as recently as July 24, and one file had been entered into the database on Jan. 10, 2007, well after previously disclosed surveillance activities.

"We are nowhere near approaching full disclosure of what they did, how they did it, why they did it, and who they did it to," Rocah said. " The files ... are so ridiculously over-redacted and haphazardly redacted. That haphazardness is matched only by the complete haphazard way in which people were entered into this database."

But Greg Shipley, spokesman for the Maryland State Police, said the redactions in the files involved police information. None of the files indicated that the activists were suspected of any crimes.

Last month, former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs presented an independent review to Gov. Martin O'Malley concluding that the Maryland State Police conducted unwarranted surveillance of anti-death penalty and anti-war groups between March 2005 and May 2006. O'Malley was not governor at the time.

O'Malley appointed Sachs to conduct the review in August after the ACLU released 46 pages of documents in July showing that state police officers spied on the groups.

Sachs' investigation found the state police violated federal regulations by transmitting its investigative findings to the federally funded Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, and showed a "lack of judgment" by labeling peaceful groups and individuals as "terrorists" and "security threat groups."

After pressure from the ACLU, the state police decided to allow the 53 activists who were wrongfully listed as suspected terrorists to bring lawyers with them to view their files or have a copy of their file mailed to them.

The ACLU said the activists' files provided little information as to why their names were listed in the database.

"The state police has complied fully with the recommendations in Sachs' report in that the 53 individuals be notified and allowed access to see and copy their files. That has been done," Shipley said.

Rocah said he will continue to push for legislation to ensure that such police surveillance is prohibited in the future. The ACLU also plans to continue filing public information requests and lawsuits until the full extent of the police surveillance is revealed.

"I don't think the story is about the content of these files. The story is that after engaging in secret intrusion, they [Maryland State Police] are now engaging in pervasive secrecy about what they did," said Barry Kissin, an activist who was also listed as a suspected terrorist in the database. "Come clean. Tell us what it connects up with. Let's not do this anymore."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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