Maryland Police Enter Political Activists Into Terrorist Databases

While keeping in mind today's critique of the government's various data-mining programs by the National Research Council, see if you can contain your outrage (no need to bother, really) as you read this:

The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged yesterday.
Activists were classified as terrorists in Maryland because they publicly opposed the death penalty or the Iraq war. They were identified by law enforcement officers who spied on them as they engaged in constitutionally protected protest.

[more ...]

The Maryland experience illustrates one of the many vices of governmental databases that treat human beings as data. Whether they are used to identify or keep track of terrorists, hit men, or horse thieves, they need to be tightly controlled. A system that allows a state trooper to decide that political opposition to the death penalty equates to terrorism is shameful. The potential for abuse should have been obvious to the database creators who apparently let anyone with a badge decide who deserves to be treated as a terrorism suspect.

[Police Superintendent Terrence] Sheridan said protest groups were also entered as terrorist organizations in the databases, but his staff has not identified which ones.

Paying little heed to the First Amendment's prohibition of governmental interference with organizations that seek redress of political grievances, Maryland troopers infiltrated and spied upon activists who took positions disfavored by the Maryland police.

Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) noted that undercover troopers used aliases to infiltrate organizational meetings, rallies and group e-mail lists. He called the spying a "deliberate infiltration to find out every piece of information necessary" on groups such as the Maryland Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance.

Astonishingly, the former state police superintendent who authorized state police to spy on war and death penalty opponents, Thomas E. Hutchins, defends the surveillance program that identified the "terrorists."

Hutchins said the program was a bulwark against potential violence and called the activists "fringe people."

Allow me to introduce myself as one of the "fringe people" who opposes the war in Iraq, who opposes the death penalty, and who fully supports the exercise of First Amendment rights to protest both of those failed policies. Or is it Hutchins who is part of the "fringe," the few who feel threatened by those who exercise their constitutional rights to challenge right wing verities?

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  • Display: Sort:
    How many arrests will there be (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Lora on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 09:24:24 PM EST
    ...because someone on some "list" steps out of line, or is perceived to step out of line, or is reported to have stepped out of line whether or not that person actually did so?

    "Step out of line, the man come to take you away."

    this is why nuns (none / 0) (#1)
    by Christy1947 on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 06:32:23 PM EST
    turn up on the airport terrorist watchlist.

    What's next, (none / 0) (#2)
    by Matt v on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 06:59:41 PM EST
    Making what blogs you read a criteria for having your name show up on the list?

    nah (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jen M on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 07:17:15 PM EST
    but if you comment...

    wow (none / 0) (#3)
    by wasabi on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 07:06:20 PM EST
    If they entered their names into a federal database, they can kiss travelling by airplane goodbye.  It seems like Wall Street is not the only place that needs some serious regulatory control.
    I'm fringe X 3 and while I don't attend meetings, I am on "lists" and  I do go to rallies and protest marches.  We need Democrats to get elected in a solid majority very soon.  This is so wrong on so many levels.

    opposition to death = terrorist (none / 0) (#5)
    by txpublicdefender on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 07:42:55 PM EST
    So, apparently, being opposed to killing people and war makes you a terrorist.  Don't you know Jesus and his band of "fringe people" would have been classified as terrorists, too?

    Quakers and peaceniks (none / 0) (#6)
    by Carolyn in Baltimore on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 08:21:38 PM EST
    I read reports from FOIA on the spying. Troopers went to multiple meetings at the Friends Service Committee near my home (I checked because a few years ago it was revealed that the FBI and NSA were taking license plate #s at the AFSC - the people who hang out with 'get out of Iraq' signs every Friday at drive-time).
    They infiltrated a small group of people who were planning non-violent protests of the death penalty.

    I thought this kind of stuff was supposed to be stopped after the Church Commission. And if they want domestic terrorists - take your pick from the militias, the bigots, the..... well some people also want to protest but don't mind being violent at all. But the Quakers? Geez.

    seriously (none / 0) (#7)
    by txpublicdefender on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 08:52:28 PM EST
    Infiltrating the Quakers is totally ridiculous.  They are absolute pacifists.  They don't believe in violence even to defend their own lives.  I know--I've had long arguments with a friend of mine who is Quaker about these things.  I've proposed outlandish hypotheticals about someone about to kill a million people with the push of a button and the only way to stop him is to kill him, and she says, "Nope."  What possible justification could there be for thinking they would support any sort of violent action?

    It's a good cover story. (none / 0) (#10)
    by Salo on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 10:57:34 PM EST
    Why I am a Quaker, I wouldn't even fight to defend myself.

    Highly suspect and antisocial if you ask me.


    My wife was raised Quaker. (none / 0) (#12)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Oct 09, 2008 at 12:08:21 PM EST
    Trust me, she can and does kick a$$ when she gets a head of steam up.

    More proof that (none / 0) (#8)
    by eric on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 09:00:37 PM EST
    the police are not your friends.  It's ironic that this country seems so worshipful of the police and their "service" while at the same time the police are becoming more and more militaristic and hostile to our civil rights.

    I hear people talk all the time about how we should respect the police - how we should thank them for their service, etc.  It is practically the worship of authority.  I don't know the origin of it, but it is getting worse.  Meanwhile, the police are busy tasering the helpless or lying in court, and when they are not busy with that, putting you on THE LIST.

    Police are not your friends.  They are out to get you.  The problem, of course, is that they have all this power, guns, and tasers and you can't really challenge them.  Please don't try.  But you surely don't have to respect them.

    this is what (none / 0) (#11)
    by cpinva on Thu Oct 09, 2008 at 01:31:30 AM EST
    benjamin franklin warned us about.

    Hutchins said the program was a bulwark against potential violence and called the activists "fringe people."

    we'll be neither safe nor free.