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ACLU aims to see if Nevada peace groups are under surveillance

RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL | January 23, 2007

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada has filed requests for information to determine if the federal or state government has had anti-war protesters and peace groups under surveillance, the ACLU's attorney said Monday.

The requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act are part of the ACLU's national effort to gauge the extent of surveillance of Nevada protests or peace rallies, Lee Rowland, the ACLU of Nevada's staff attorney, said.

"In May 2003, there were dozens of Reno Anti-war Coalition members who became aware of both uniformed and plain-clothes officers monitoring their conversations and taking pictures of dozens of members," Rowland said.

"These people don't represent any threat to national security," she said. "If we have gotten to the point where your simple belief that national policy is wrong makes you a target of a national police state, then we have more serious problems than we ever anticipated."

Shane Piccinini, president of the local Sierra Interfaith Action for Peace, said he is pleased the ACLU is pursuing the possible violation of people's First Amendment rights to assemble and protest the actions of their government.

"This has been a concern of many members of our organization going back to the anti-war protests in January 2003 before the invasion of Iraq," he said. "We were fairly confident that Reno police were driving by and taking pictures at peace vigils held at the Federal Building."

Reno police Chief Michael Poehlman could not be reached for comment. The ACLU of Nevada requests were sent to a dozen federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The state requests were sent to the attorney general, Nevada Homeland Security, the FBI Las Vegas office, the Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Nevada Highway Patrol, Reno Police Department, Carson City Sheriff's Office and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

A protest in Reno last March by the Reno Anti-War Coalition was part of a daily briefing for the California Office of Homeland Security. Chris Bertelli, a spokesman for that office later apologized, saying that had been a mistake and the office had "no interest in political groups."

Rowland said a response from some of the federal and state agencies could come as early as late February or could take months to receive.

"Clearly, the volume of the responses to the other (national ACLU) requests that have been made shows it's a pressing issue and that people are targets of law enforcement surveillance based on their beliefs," she said. "So we feel it is a matter of the utmost urgency to find out the extent of this surveillance and stop it."


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