ANNAPOLIS – The ACLU of Maryland filed additional public information requests with local police departments on Tuesday afternoon to find out if law enforcement officers spied on more advocacy groups than previously reported.
The requests on behalf of dozens of groups and individuals come two months after the ACLU revealed that the Maryland State Police spied on anti-death penalty groups in 2005-2006.
The ACLU is also pushing for legislation that would specify detailed and uniform standards of what should be prohibited during police surveillance.
“We are seeking strong legislation. The only way to ensure our personal freedom is through legislation, strong enforcement and strong remedies,” said Cindy Boersma, legislative director of the ACLU of Maryland.
Advocacy groups hope the public information requests filed Tuesday will reveal whether or not law enforcement officers conducted surveillance on numerous groups. They want the Maryland State Police to explain why they targeted certain groups.
After suing in June to gain access to the records, the ACLU published 46 pages of documents in July revealing that the Maryland State Police conducted surveillance of several anti-death penalty groups.
“It will be interesting to see whether the Maryland State Police’s stated rationale was in fact the real rationale, and if these groups were spied on as well, which would be very troubling,” said David Rocah, staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. “It will be interesting to see if they weren’t spied on, in which case the Maryland State Police, I think, has some more explaining to do on how they chose the groups they were going to spy on.”
The Maryland State Police released a statement in July stating that the monitoring was warranted because it was prompted by protests surrounding the execution of inmate Vernon Evans in 2005.
“The Maryland State Police will address their requests and provide the information that they are entitled to under the law,” said Greg Shipley, spokesman for the Maryland State Police.
Since publishing its findings in July, the ACLU has heard from many advocacy groups worried that they had also been targets of police surveillance.
The public information requests sent on Tuesday to the Maryland State Police, Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Office, and a number of local police departments in areas where demonstrations were held, were filed on behalf of 32 advocacy groups and more than 250 individuals associated with those groups.
Police surveillance of advocacy groups is not illegal. But some local groups maintain that the surveillance was illegal because no criminal activities took place and their privacy was violated.
“Freedom to dissent without fear is a fundamental aspect of what we think America is about – or should be about. For the government to spy on us makes us very afraid and destroys the right of dissent,” said Jean Athey of PeaceAction Montgomery.
The information requests came one day before Stephen Sachs, a lawyer appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, presents his independent review of whether or not the law enforcement officers had valid reasons for conducting the surveillance.