Dinler et al. vs the City of New York: court rules City can withold surveillance data of political protests

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that New York City can keep secret about 1,800 pages of records detailing the Police Department’s surveillance and tactical strategy in advance of protests at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Releasing the documents “could undermine the safety of law enforcement  personnel and would likely undermine the ability of a law enforcement  agency to conduct future investigations,” including future surveillance efforts centered on terrorism suspects, according to the 43-page decision, written by  Judge José A. Cabranes.

More than 1,800 people were arrested and fingerprinted during the convention, but lawyers for the New York Civil Liberties Union group, representing some of those arrested, were seeking the documents to see how and why arrests were made and what information the police may have had before they made the arrests.

Christopher T. Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said it was a mistake to conflate the department’s antiterrorism efforts with its operation to covertly observe groups involved in public protests at political events.

Mr. Dunn said he was concerned that the police would use the decision to clamp down on peaceful protests in New York.

“What has been so deeply troubling has been the city’s continued effort to depict demonstrators as terrorists,” Mr. Dunn said. “The convention protests were entirely peaceful, and we believe that the reports we sought would have revealed that the Police Department was fully aware that the protests would be peaceful.”

Mr. Dunn added, “The real tragedy in today’s ruling is that it may further embolden the police to play the terrorism card in trying to suppress lawful protest.”

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