Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Surveillance of Abortion Activists

According to this report, the Department of Homeland Security created a threat asssessment of abortion activists last year before an expected rally in Middleton, Wisconsin.  Owing to the limited distribution of the assessment (it was shared only with local law enforcement before being destroyed), the Department concluded that the report would have no effect on civil liberties.

This sort of spying on civil rights activists by federal, state, and local officials is not an isolated incident (see here, here and here).  In the book, I discuss the "militarization" of public protest.  Collecting "threat" information about protest groups is one aspect of militarization.  A "24" mentality seems to have seeped into protest policing over the past couple of years. 

The Department's confidence that such surveillance will have no effect on civil liberties may be unwarranted.  Protesters are becoming aware of this form of surveillance.  Speakers may understandably not wish to be on the threat lists compiled by officials.  Compiling threat assesssments and reports concerning entire groups of lawful protesters seems not only unnecessary but potentially chilling as well.    

1 comment:

  1. I would agree that compiling threat assessments on groups as a whole would have a chilling effect. But especially in light of the murder of Dr. Tiller by an anti-abortion protester, I'm not so sure it's a bad idea to conduct such assessments on an individual level. Unfortunately, it isn't only peaceful protesters who show up to such events, as the health care protests over the summer demonstrated.