NEW YORK (CN) – The New York Police Department was forced to abandon its policy of videotaping political protests and using the film to keep files on protesters, after civil liberties attorneys challenged the policy.
The NYPD increased surveillance of legal demonstrations after Sept. 11, 2001, claiming it needed more latitude to prevent terrorism.
During the 2004 Republican National Convention, the NYPD began daily videotaping of protests, treating them as security threats.
After the convention, the NYPD tried to integrate unrestricted photo and video documentation of political activity into written policy, claiming it could keep such “evidence” as long as it wanted.
But lawyers who had worked on the 1971 police conduct class action, Handschu v. Special Services Division, challenged the claim, arguing that the policy violated the Handschu consent decree that kept police from setting up files on politically active citizens who had not broken the law.
The attorneys filed their challenge as part of the Handschu proceedings.
The NYPD fought the challenge for 3 years before secretly dropping its policy in April 2007. It did not inform the court or the challenging attorneys of the change until October.
“While we’re glad that the NYPD realized its surveillance policy ran counter to Handschu decree, it’s disturbing that the department did so in secret, wasting precious tax dollars to engage in an unnecessary legal battle,” said Arthur Eisenberg, legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and co-counsel in the Handschu case.
The Handschu attorneys also filed a petition asking the Department to notify the court next time it wants to change its surveillance policies.