ACLU: Political Harassment by Police Increasing

WASHINGTON—Political surveillance and harassment by U.S. law enforcement agencies are on the rise with incidents reported in at least 33 states since 9/11, according to a review published June 29 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Included in the report are several alleged incidents involving students and campus police departments.

The ACLU claims that political spying has experienced a steady resurgence in the years following 9/11 as state and local law enforcement are being urged by federal law enforcement agencies to participate in counterterrorism practices.

The organization released its report of 111 incidents in 33 states and the District of Columbia in conjunction with the launch of its new “Spyfiles” Web hub on domestic political surveillance, which will serve as a new resource on domestic spying for the benefit of reporters, researchers, bloggers and any other interested members of the public. It will include a database of documents obtained through state and federal open-records requests as well as links to news reports and other relevant materials. 

“We are determined to prevent the emergence of a domestic secret police apparatus in this country,” said Michael German, ACLU Policy Counsel and former FBI Special Agent. “Yet, as the ACLU’s report shows, these activities continue to take place with a regularity that shows there are systemic problems at work that must be monitored closely.”

The alleged incidents specific to colleges and university students include: 

  • “Student Arrested for Advertising Protest. University of Arizona Police Department’s arrested a 24‐year‐old graduate student for using sidewalk chalk to advertise a protest. Individuals involved with the incident believe that the anonymous faculty member who reported the chalk probably had a problem with the content, not the medium, of the message. Tags: State and Local Police
  • “Military Monitors Campus Anti‐Recruiting Protests. Two Department of Defense (DOD) Threat and Local Observation Notices (TALON) from April 2005 describe anti‐recruiting protests by students at the University of California campuses of Berkeley and Santa Cruz. The source for both TALON reports, a “special agent of the federal protective service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” relayed protest information he received through email alerts. Tags: DOD, FBI, FPS (
  • “Undercover Campus and County Sheriffs Attend Cal State Fresno Lecture on Veganism. On November 10, 2004, the California State Fresno student group Campus Peace and Civil Liberties Coalition (CPCLC) hosted an on‐campus lecture by a speaker formerly employed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The lecturer addressed approximately 60 people about the benefits of a vegan diet. Six of those 60 attendees were undercover police officers-three from the county sheriff’s department and three from the campus police department. Tags: State and local Police (
  • “Military Collects Information on Student and Community Peace Groups. The Department of Defense (DOD) Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database included information on numerous anti‐war and counter‐recruitment protests, including campus demonstrations by UC Santa Cruz Students Against War and the UC Berkeley Stop the War Coalition, a Sacramento protest organized by military veterans, and a San Francisco demonstration organized by local activists. The TALON database also designated the level of concern posed by the protest activity. Tags: JTTF 5 ( and
  • “Colorado University Bolder Police Department Intercepts and Shares E‐mail about Fur Free Friday. An e‐mail sent to members of Rocky Mountain Animal Defense about Fur Free Friday, dated November 7, 2001, was intercepted by the Colorado University Boulder police department. CUBPD forwarded it to the Denver Police Department Intelligence Unit and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Tags: State and Local police
  • “Colorado University Bolder Police Department Intercepts and Shares E‐mail About Aspen Event Meeting. On July 13, 2000, an activist’s email to the Direct Action Network and the Waake‐up list announcing an informational meeting to discuss events that the Aspen Institute was sponsoring the following month was email was intercepted by the Colorado University Boulder police department, who quickly forwarded it to the Denver Police Department’s Intelligence Unit. Tags: JTTF, State and Local police
  • “Federal Protective Services Shares Information about Georgia State Students for Peace and Justice Protest. The Georgia State University Students for Peace and Justice appear in an April 2005 Department of Defense (DOD) Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON). The source, a “special agent of the federal protective service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” describes an email alert he received about an “Anti‐Recruitment Picket.” The Atlanta Police Department, the Georgia Information and Sharing Intelligence Center, and the Atlanta Recruiting Battalion were among the local organizations advised of the protests. Tags: JTTF, DOD, DHS, State and Local Police (
  • “Military Lists Georgia Peace & Justice Coalition as a Threat to DOD. A Department of Defense (DOD) Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) report listing Atlanta‐area protests organized by the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition (GPJC) contends that the Students for Peace and Justice Network poses a threat to DOD personnel. Citing a DHS source, the TALON supports its claim by listing prior acts of civil disobedience in California and Texas, including a protest at the University of California Santa Cruz campus, a sit‐in, and street theatre. Tags: JTTF, DOD, DHS (
  • “FBI Questions Idaho Progressive Student Alliance Leaders. In May 2005, the ACLU and ACLU of Idaho filed FOIA to request information on behalf of the Idaho Progressive Student Alliance (IPSA), a non‐partisan student group that focuses on social, economic, gender, and environmental justice. IPSA President Arielle Anderson and Secretary Audra Green were questioned by FBI agents in March 2004 regarding the IPSA’s boycott of Taco Bell to protest the conditions of Immokalee workers in Florida. Tags: FBI (
  • “JTTF Delivers Grand Jury Subpoenas to Peace Activists and Drake University. In February 2004, it came to light that four peace activists and Drake University had received federal grand jury subpoenas, which were delivered by a local JTTF offic
    er. The U.S. Attorney’s statement on the subpoenas shows that they were all related to a mid‐November seminar at Drake University, led by the National Lawyers Guild, on non‐violent civil disobedience. Tags: JTTF, DOJ, FBI (
  • “UMass Amherst Campus Police Joints Ant‐Terrorism Taskforce. In December 2002, a police officer at the University of Massachusetts campus at Amherst was recruited by the FBI to spend several days a week working exclusively for its Anti‐Terrorism Task Force. The arrangement came to light after FBI agents, acting on the basis of information provided by the campus officer, questioned a faculty member and an organizer for a campus union. The faculty member is of Iraqi descent and the union organizer is from Sri Lanka. Tags: FBI, JTTF (
  • “Undercover Harvard Police Photographs Peaceful Protestors. 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. HUPD officers are sworn special State Police officers often work “in conjunction with other agencies, including the Massachusetts State Police, Boston Police, Cambridge Police, Somerville Police, and many federal agencies.” A university spokesman refused to say what the HUPD does with the photographs it takes for “intelligence gathering” purposes, so it is unknown whether this information was shared. Tags: State and Local Police (”

To read the full report, click here.

To read the full press release, click here.

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