Thursday, January 22, 2009

Anti-Spying Bill Introduced

Senators Jamie Raskin (D-20) and Brian Frosh (D-16) and Delegates Sheila Hixson (D-20), Sandy Rosenberg (D-41), Heather Mizeur (D-20) and Tom Hucker (D-20) introduced a comprehensive bill today to prevent improper spying by the state police. Following is a press release from their offices.

Legislative Leaders Introduce Comprehensive Bill to Ensure Police Spying on Peaceful Activists Never Happens Again

January 22, 2009


On behalf of Senators Jamie Raskin; Brian Frosh, Delegates Sheila Hixson; Sandy Rosenberg; Tom Hucker, and Heather Mizeur

ANNAPOLIS – Calling for swift passage for a bill to ban police spying on political activists in Maryland, state legislative leaders today held a press conference to announce their introduction of The Freedom of Association and Assembly Protection Act of 2009. The leaders believe that the First Amendment protects the rights of all Marylanders to organize to advance their political and social views free of the chilling specter of government surveillance and dossiers. However, Maryland now has no law that protects these most basic of rights to organize, peacefully assemble, and petition our government. Lead bill sponsors are Senators Jamie Raskin and Brian Frosh; and Delegates Sheila Hixson, Sandy Rosenberg, Heather Mizeur and Tom Hucker.

The legislation seeks to codify the recommendations of the report issued in October by former Attorney General Stephen Sachs. Specifically, the bill will mandate that law enforcement use of covert techniques and compiling of criminal intelligence dossiers about Marylanders’ political views and activities be based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

State Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20): “The State Police are not Maryland's thought police. Marylanders have a right to work for environmental protection, an end to the death penalty, marriage equality, peace, and bike lanes without being spied upon and called terrorists by law enforcement officials. Our bill will forbid covert tactics against our citizens unless there is specific reasonable suspicion that they are engaged in criminal activity. It will also forbid the Orwellian practice of keeping political dossiers on citizens that are not part of actual criminal investigations. At a time of staggering financial crisis, let's stop wasting our money spying on people nonviolently exercising their political freedom.”

State Senator Brian E. Frosh (D-16): "Obviously, we've got to make sure that this kind of surveillance doesn't happen again. Police need the tools to do their jobs in cases of criminal wrongdoing. But surveillance of law-abiding citizens shouldn't be an option."

Delegate Sheila Hixson (D-20): “My colleagues and I were shocked and appalled to learn of the covert police surveillance of our neighbors who were simply expressing their beliefs regarding the death penalty, the war in Iraq and environmental concerns. Still further and inconceivably, we learned that their names were entered on a ‘terrorist’ list. We ask: what has happened to our freedom to express ourselves? For that reason we have crafted legislation to prohibit inappropriate law enforcement that interferes with First Amendment rights.”

Delegate Tom Hucker (D-20): “At a time when the state is cutting health care, transportation, and environmental protection, it boggles the mind to learn our state police were using precious tax dollars to spy on our constituents. We wrote this bill to make sure state tax dollars are never again used for surveillance of peaceful activists. We have a constitutional right to assemble, and we will fight to protect it.”

Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-20): “Takoma Park residents share a proud history of civic engagement and issue advocacy. Sometimes we have to fight to be heard. At other times, we’re being listened to when we least expect it. State sponsored spying on peace activists and death penalty advocates is a mark of shame on Maryland. We are here today to reaffirm the most basic of our rights granted by the First Amendment – that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Here and now, we make our petition: Never again will this be allowed to happen in Maryland.”

Delegate Samuel I. (Sandy) Rosenberg (D-41): “People exercising their First Amendment rights should not be subjected to the chilling presence of undercover police officers.”

ACLU of Maryland Legislative Director Cynthia Boersma: “The ACLU of Maryland applauds the bill’s sponsors for answering the call of Mr. Sachs’ report, which condemned the police surveillance that has taken place as ‘inconsistent with an overarching value in our democratic society—the free and unfettered debate of important public questions.’” Mr. Sachs believes such police conducted ‘ought to be prohibited,’ and we believe that legislation is necessary to ensure that the protection of our most basic rights do not change with changing administrations. This bill establishes clear standards to protect both our First Amendment rights and our public safety by directing that criminal intelligence and counter-terrorism resources are used to respond to suspected criminal activity rather than spying on legitimate political activity.”

Since July 17, 2008, when the ACLU of Maryland uncovered that the MSP engaged in covert surveillance of local peace and anti-death penalty groups for over a year from 2005-2006, we have learned that the Maryland State Police has engaged in a far-reaching program of covert surveillance of political groups in Maryland. Dozens of individuals and organizations have been targeted by the Maryland State Police which maintained criminal intelligence files on their political beliefs and activities, labeling them as suspected terrorists and security threats. According to their own files, the MSP had no evidence or suspicion that any identified target was engaged in criminal activity of any kind.

Go online to learn more about MSP spying on political activists: