Civil Rights Groups Seek to Expose Surveillance of Black Lives Matter Activists and Others
Civil rights groups mark 50th Anniversary of Freedom of Information Act by filing requests to expose government surveillance of activists of color
July 5, 2016, New York – Color Of Change
(COC) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) jointly filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security today seeking information on the surveillance and monitoring of activists exercising their First Amendment constitutional rights at protests across the country. Their request is specifically directed at the monitoring of protest activity whose subject matter or theme involved police brutality, criminal justice, racial inequalities, or Black Lives Matter. The groups filed their request today in order to mark the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act.
This FOIA request comes on the heels of numerous instances over the past two of years of military and counterterror resources being used to surveil movement for Black lives protests as well as first-hand accounts of surveillance of protests and activists. The most recent known incident occurred last month, when FBI and DHS agents went to the homes of Cleveland activists to question them about their protected First Amendment activities.
COC and CCR tailored this FOIA request to obtain information of vital public importance about the use of surveillance and counter-terror resources against protesters in the movement for Black lives, which appears to be widespread among federal agencies and coordinated with local law enforcement.
Rashad Robinson, Executive Director, ColorOfChange: “Political dissent and protest are not crimes; neither are they terrorist activities to be monitored or put down by counterterrorism units. Nonetheless, the U.S. government has a long, well-documented history of using surveillance, monitoring, and the threat of coercive state force to intimidate and silence Black-led movements for social justice and empowerment.
“The revelations of FBI, DHS, and local law enforcement surveillance of the movement for Black lives leads us to fear that the current surveillance of the movement is more coordinated, extensive, and systematic than has been revealed thus far and that it is intended to silence the demands of Black activists and related movements.”
Omar Farah, Staff Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights
: “Unlawful surveillance thrives in secrecy, where it threatens the activism, free speech, and political inquiry necessary to hold government accountable for its misconduct. In recent years, the Black Lives Matter movement has sought to expose and resist crisis-level police misconduct in Ferguson, Chicago, Oakland and elsewhere around the country. Predictably, the BLM movement has faced aggressive surveillance in response, including from federal and local agencies using counterterror resources and tactics.
"CCR has a long history of fighting unlawful government surveillance and supporting protests movements through FOIA litigation and advocacy. This collaboration with COC represents an important next step in that work.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.