The New York Civil Liberties Union today asked the city to reconsider a controversial proposal that would require NYPD licensing for scientific study.

The proposed legislation effectively would require anyone in New York City who wishes to possess or use any device that measures chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear agents to obtain a license from the NYPD. Applicants for such licenses would have to demonstrate to the NYPD, among other things, that they are of adequate “character and fitness” – as defined by the NYPD – to possess and use the device.

If the bill is enacted, medical researchers and environmental advocates could be imprisoned for monitoring air or water quality without a permit. Intended to prevent false alarms, the bill actually would hinder the flow of information regarding serious pollutants and other environmental hazards.

“Independent environmental monitoring is crucial to New Yorkers' safety,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “It was independent monitors who warned us the air downtown was unsafe after Sept. 11 after government agencies had disseminated misleading information. Researchers have a right to do this kind of important work without getting the government's permission.”

The bill would trigger tension between well-meaning members of the public and police officers charged with enforcing a vague and overly broad law. It also would unreasonably burden activity protected by the First Amendment and establish a licensing regime that violates traditional principles of due process.

In testimony delivered today before the New York City Council, NYCLU Staff Attorney Beth Haroules called on Mayor Bloomberg to discard the proposal and work with the City Council to find a narrowly tailored compromise.

“The proposed legislation, if enacted in law, will have a direct, immediate and harmful affect on the exercise of basic rights and liberties,” Haroules said.

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