The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the NYPD on behalf of the activist group Millions March NYC and its organizers Vienna Rye, Arminta Jeffryes and Nabil Hassein in response to the department’s new approach -- the so-called “Glomar doctrine” -- of refusing public records requests about its surveillance activities and technology. The organizers of Millions March NYC, whose mission is to build and strengthen the movement for Black lives in New York City, are seeking information about whether the NYPD is using technology to infringe on the protest rights of activists.
Millions March NYC activists grew concerned after experiencing strange and unexplained problems with their phones while attending and organizing protests, similar to those reported by many Black Lives Matter protesters in other parts of the country. For example, some organizers experienced their phones shutting down during marches or received messages indicating possible interference in their messages sent and received on Signal, a secure messaging tool. Represented by the NYCLU, Millions March NYC filed a Freedom of Information Law request last October asking for records on interference with the use of cell phones by protestors, monitoring of their social media accounts, and surveillance of other protest and organizing activities.
However, the NYPD denied the vast majority of the request on the grounds that it could “neither confirm nor deny the existence of records” -- a troubling sign that the NYPD has begun invoking the “Glomar doctrine” broadly to avoid disclosing its surveillance activity.
The Glomar doctrine has historically been used in highly unusual national security circumstances involving federal agencies, not state or local law enforcement. In its lawsuit, the NYCLU argues that if the NYPD is able to use the Glomar doctrine to shield itself from these types of FOIL requests, “there would be no limit to the NYPD’s ability to cloak its conduct in secrecy.”