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Police to videotape protesters (and yes, they did)

Chicago police are expected to videotape anti-globalization demonstrators today under intelligence-gathering powers they have regained from the courts after a two-decade ban.
Police to videotape protesters
November 7, 2002


Chicago police are expected to videotape anti-globalization demonstrators today under intelligence-gathering powers they have regained from the courts after a two-decade ban.

Department rules that took effect Oct. 25 also permit officers to pose as members of groups as long as the intelligence-gathering has a legitimate law-enforcement purpose. And the rules let officers surf the Internet to scan groups' Web sites for information about them.

"In the past, you could only turn on the camera after a crime was committed, and you could only film the commission of a crime," said Larry Rosenthal, a deputy corporation counsel for the city. "Now, we will have cameras out there to document demonstrators' misconduct, as well as police misconduct if it occurs."

Harvey Grossman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said he fears camera-wielding police would scare people from exercising their constitutional right to protest.

"Is the cost worth the benefit?" he said. "What about city employees who want to protest corporate policies? Do you think they want their photo in a police dossier?"

The expanded police powers stem from the easing of the so-called Red Squad consent decree in January 2001. The federal decree, which dates to 1982, had barred the city from gathering information on suspected terrorist and hate groups.

The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals modified the decree in January 2001, giving the city more freedom to collect intelligence. Chief Judge Richard A. Posner wrote that the decree "rendered the police helpless to do anything to protect the public."

The Red Squad was a secret police unit notorious for spying on anti-Vietnam activists in the 1960s, when police and demonstrators snapped photos of each other. The unit, which had gathered intelligence on groups since the 1920s, even had infiltrated church groups.

"Somebody in the Police Department can't remember 1968," said Grossman, referring to the violent clashes between officers and protesters outside the Democratic National Convention here.

Mayor Daley--whose father was mayor in 1968--has argued for years that the decree needed to be lifted, saying the department has become more sensitive to free-speech issues over the years.

Rosenthal said he expected some officers to have cameras with them during the protests of the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue meeting planned for today and Friday. The event--which will draw CEOs and Cabinet-level officials from the United States and Europe to discuss trade--is hosted by Boeing Co.

The protesters have accused the participants of engaging in corporate practices that damage the environment and harm wages.

The department can save photos of demonstrators to prepare for future protests, which was not previously allowed, Rosenthal said. Videotapes could help prosecutors in criminal cases stemming from the expected protests, he said.

Rosenthal said officers are allowed to sit in on demonstrators' meetings with the approval of a commander and the department's general counsel, Karen Rowan--as long as they don't actively pretend to be members of the group.

If officers pretend to be demonstrators to infiltrate the group, they must obtain permission from police Supt. Terry Hillard, as well as Rowan. Hillard also must approve any electronic surveillance, Rosenthal said.

Police spokesman David Bayless said the modified consent decree allows the department to share intelligence with other agencies for the first time.

All intelligence gathering must be documented, and the Police Board is required to conduct an audit of whether the department is complying with the modified decree.

"We will not use this irresponsibly," Bayless said, noting that Washington police videotaped protesters and vice versa during International Monetary Fund protests in September.



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