Monday, June 14, 2010

2004 NYC Surveillance Documents Can Be Kept Secret

According to this report in the N.Y. Times, the Second Circuit has held that New York City may keep secret about 1,800 pages of "Field Reports" relating to surveillance conducted by officers in NYC and across the globe prior to the 2004 Republican National Convention in NYC.  A large group of plaintiffs who were detained and held overnight at the convention after they allegedly held peaceful protests are pursuing a civil rights action against the city.  The plaintiffs allege that they were arrested and detained without proper cause.  The city contends that the threat level at the convention was high, and that its mass arrest policy was justified. 

Covert surveillance has become part of the militarized environment preceding critical democratic moments such as national party conventions.  Some "Action Reports" filed by police during surveillance had previsously been released during litigation.  Those reports indicated that officers were conducting surveillance on peaceful protest groups, including those who intended to engage in peaceful vigils, marches, and poetry readings during the conventions.  About 600 pages of "End User Reports" have also been disclosed, which the city says justify its conclusion that the convention was a possible terrorist target.  The latest discovery battle involves the Field Reports, which apparently detail covert surveillance activities by NYPD leading up to an during the convention. 

In its opinion, the Second Circuit held that the Field Reports are protected under the law enforcement privilege.  It concluded that plaintiffs had not demonstrated a compelling need for the documents, largely in light of their possession of the End User Reports, and that disclosure could harm law enforcement operations at future public events.  The case will proceed to trial.     

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