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NYC wants police surveillance files kept secret

NY Times | March 26, 2007
Jim Dwyer

NEW YORK -- Lawyers for the city, responding to a request to unseal records of police surveillance leading up to the 2004 Republican convention in New York, say that the documents should remain secret because the news media will "fixate upon and sensationalize them," hurting the city's ability to defend itself in lawsuits over mass arrests.

In court papers filed in federal court last week, the city's lawyers also say that the documents could be "misinterpreted" because they were not intended for the public.

The documents show that the Police Department's Intelligence Division sent undercover detectives around the city, the country and the world to collect information on political activists and others planning to demonstrate at the 2004 convention, according to a sampling of records reviewed by The New York Times.

The records showed that some of the surveillance was conducted on groups that planned to disrupt the convention, but also on groups and people who expressed no apparent intention to break the law. In at least some cases, the reports were shared with other law-enforcement agencies.

Before monitoring political activity, the police must have some indication of wrongdoing, a federal court judge has said. Over the weekend a spokesman for the Police Department reiterated an earlier statement that the surveillance was conducted lawfully and that the preparations helped keep order when large crowds of demonstrators gathered in the city the week of the convention.

Christopher Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the revelations of widespread surveillance would increase pressure for the records' release.

"People all over the country will want these documents to see if they were spied upon," he said. "That will make the debate about releasing them all the more important."

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