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Documents on NYPD’s Pre-Convention Surveillance of Protesters Should Not Be Hidden from Public, Federal Judge Rules

A federal court today ordered that a long-contested set of documents that describe the New York Police Department’s political surveillance of groups that planned to protest at the Republican National Convention should no longer be treated as confidential. The judge has stayed the decision for ten days to allow the city to make additional arguments as to why the materials should remain confidential or to appeal the decision.

In a fourteen-page ruling, Judge James Francis rejected the city’s argument that release of the documents would prevent the city from getting a fair trial in cases brought by the NYCLU. In those cases the NYCLU challenges mass arrests of protestors and bystanders, detention of those arrested for as long as 3 days, and the blanket fingerprinting of protestors.

In January of this year the police department for the first time claimed that its actions during the Convention were based on intelligence gathered about political groups. When it made this claim the city produced to the NYCLU approximately 600 pages describing that operation. At the same time, it designated all of those documents as confidential.

The NYCLU and the New York Times challenged this designation on the basis that the public has a right to know the details of the NYPD’s surveillance of lawful protest. Today’s ruling states that the NYCLU should be able to release those documents.

“There is enormous public interest in the police department’s pre-Convention political surveillance operation, and we look forward to releasing these documents,” said Christopher Dunn, NYCLU Associate Legal Director.

The NYCLU plans to release the documents as soon as possible upon the resolution of the stay.

“The police department has a double standard about who can have access to material it considers confidential, and this ruling should end that double standard and vindicate the public’s right to know,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director. “The outrage that the police department expressed when the New York Times gained access to these documents was missing when it came to the Wall Street Journal’s Judith Miller, a reporter who defended the police department’s actions. In a democracy, whether the press has access to government information does not depend on whether or not the press agrees with the government’s position. We are glad that today’s decision rejects the city’s efforts to hide their surveillance activity behind a cloak of secrecy and partiality.”

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