Surveillance of Activist Groups

Recalling the bad old days of the Red Scare, the federal government is cracking down on political dissent as part of a broad pattern of executive abuses that use "national security" as justification for violating our privacy and free speech rights without adequate - or any - judicial oversight. Anyone who advocates a position at odds with the government becomes subject to increased scrutiny and suspicion.

The NYCLU has long been a leader across the State in defending the rights of New Yorkers to exercise their rights to speak and protest freely. It has confronted government surveillance of activist groups both on the streets and in the courts. In the landmark case, Handschu v. Special Services Division, the NYCLU has successfully challenged various NYPD surveillance and investigative practices directed at political organizations.

In April 2003, the NYCLU released a report critiquing the NYPD’s aggressive actions during a Feb. 15, 2003 anti-war demonstration in Manhattan. Later that year, it filed three lawsuits to contest the police practices at anti-war protests. As a result of those cases, the NYPD agreed to revise its policies regarding public protests.

The indiscriminate and widespread surveillance, arrest and fingerprinting of peaceful demonstrators at the 2004 Republican National Convention drew a sharp response from the NYCLU. The organization released a report one-year after the RNC that documented crackdown on the lawful demonstrations and recommended reforms. It also challenged the NYPD’s mass arrests, blanket fingerprinting and prolonged detention of protestors in federal court. Through that lawsuit, the NYCLU gained access to various secret reports produced during the nationwide political surveillance operation the NYPD ran before the convention.

NYCLU staff and volunteers regularly monitor police activity at public protests, to ensure demonstrators’ constitutional rights are protected. Click here to learn more about the ACLU’s efforts to stop government surveillance and spying.