BALTIMORE - Alarmed that 53 innocent people who were wrongful targets of Maryland State Police (MSP) spying are getting letters this week from the MSP saying that they have been mistakenly listed as terrorists in a government database but that they cannot make copies of their files or bring their lawyer with them to review their files, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland today is urging Governor Martin O'Malley to reverse this wrong-headed and unlawful policy. The law entitles individuals to a copy of their files and to have a lawyer accompany them to review the files.
"This is not the way for the Maryland State Police to demonstrate that they ‘get it' about the unconscionable spying on peaceful political activists that has taken place," said David Rocah, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland. "Innocent people are getting letters saying that they've been listed as terrorists in a government database, and they are understandably scared. This shouldn't all just disappear into the ether with the click of a delete button."
In the immediate aftermath of MSP's revelation of the "terrorist" listings on Tuesday at a special hearing of the State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee into the agency's improper spying on peaceful political activists, the Maryland ACLU has heard from more than a dozen people who have received letters, seeking legal counsel. The letters inform the recipients that they were wrongly listed as terrorists in a government database and invite them to make an appointment to review their file.
Rocah continued: "After wrongfully spying on them, infiltrating their organizations, and listing them as terrorists, it would be foolhardy for the activists to be expected to take it on faith that the State Police will forever and everywhere purge their records. The State Police's policy of not allowing innocent people swept up in this un-American surveillance dragnet to make copies of their files or bring a lawyer with them to review their files is simply unacceptable."
Americans are legally and morally entitled to these government files wrongfully being kept on them, and the police do not get to dictate who is allowed to have a lawyer or who that lawyer is. In addition, there are many reasons why individuals would want a lawyer in such circumstances:
- To help make sure all the information is gathered;
- Because one is understandably afraid of MSP after being improperly labeled a terrorist;
- Because copies of the files should be retained, in case there are future consequences that negatively affect one's life and opportunities;
- Because one wants to be able to document MSP misdeeds, and hold the agency accountable.