ACLU Seeks Information about State Homeland Security Spying on Anti-War Rallies

SAN FRANCISCO – The three California ACLU affiliates are filing Public Records Act requests today seeking information about the state Office of Homeland Security’s (OHS) reported tracking of First Amendment activity. On July 1, the Los Angeles Times reported about several incidents involving OHS’s spying on political protest throughout the state. The PRA requests were filed with the offices of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Attorney General Bill Locker on behalf of 100,000 members of the ACLU.

“Californians and all Americans have the right–and especially right now, the duty–to voice their views on important public matters,” said Kevin Keenan, Executive Director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “America’s founders would be horrified to learn that the government is monitoring lawful speech and assemblies.” David Blair-Loy, the organization’s legal director added, “Tracking peaceful political protests as the Office of Homeland Security appears to be doing is invasive and inconsistent with the state constitutional right to privacy. We are seeking all documents related to OHS regulations, oversight, and actions taken by the governor and the attorney general.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that an anti-war protest in Walnut Creek attended by U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), an animal rights rally in San Francisco and a Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom anti-war rally in Santa Barbara were monitored by the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, according to documents obtained by the Times.

In the PRA request the ACLU thanks Bill Lockyer’s “public statements supporting the right of the people to exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of government surveillance” but expresses concern about the possible lack of action taken by the attorney general’s office in response to issues raised internally regarding the actions and authority of OHS. The PRA cites internal Justice Department documents as well as a whistleblower complaint lodged by Ed Manavian, former Bureau Chief of the Criminal Intelligence Division.

“More than ever, government accountability is critical for a free and open society,” added Keenan. “We fully expect the governor and attorney general to cooperate immediately with our request.” The California Public Records Act requires a response within 10 working days of receipt of a request.