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NYCLU, Civil Rights Attorneys Challenge Police Claim To Unrestricted Photo Surveillance Of Demonstrators

The NYCLU and a group of civil rights lawyers today are asking U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight to enjoin the NYPD’s policy of taking photographs and videotapes of lawful political protest activity in New York City without restriction, and retaining those images indefinitely. Today’s motion challenges the NYPD’s Interim Order 47, dated September 10, 2004, which significantly expanded the NYPD’s political surveillance authority. It marks the latest round in the decades-old federal case Handschu v. Special Services Division which has resulted in a series of court orders regulating police surveillance of political protest.

“The NYPD’s video surveillance policy intrudes significantly upon the right of individuals to assemble peacefully at political events without having their photographs placed in police department files,” said Arthur Eisenberg, NYCLU Legal Director. “The policy exceeds, in intrusiveness and scope, any surveillance program approved by the Supreme Court.”

The motion follows elevated police photo and video surveillance of demonstrators engaged in lawful activity beginning in early 2004. The police claim in the new regulation a right to photograph and videotape New Yorkers engaged in political activity, and to retain the photos and videos indefinitely. The current federal court order provides police may investigate political and First Amendment activity only when an investigation of illegal activity is conducted according to the court ordered Guidelines for Investigations of Political Activity, or when unlawful activity is taking place.

The motion is expected to be heard once the New York City Corporation Counsel’s office, which represents the police department, files papers with the court responding to the motion.

The civil rights class is represented by Paul G. Chevigny of NYU Law School, Jethro M. Eisenstein, Martin R. Stolar and Franklin Siegel, who are joined on the motion by the NYCLU’s Eisenberg.

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