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Report: NYPD Spied To Gather Information On RNC Protestors

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TWC News: Report: NYPD Spied To Gather Information On RNC Protestors
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The NYPD Sunday forcefully defended its surveillance of political activists before the 2004 Republican National Convention, after civil rights groups say it was against the law. NY1's Cindi Avila filed the following report.

“People are not going to want to go to demonstrate if they know big brother is in there with them, organizing the protest, watching them, whatever it may be,” says Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

But now we are learning the NYPD may have been watching protestors at the 2004 Republican National Convention from within, even traveling to other states and other countries.

The New York Times says still-secret reports show police went undercover sometimes posing as activists themselves, at times even making friends with protestors in hopes of gaining information.

The satirical liberal leaning group "Billionaires for Bush" is one group that now believes spies were among them.

"We had our suspicions during the RNC, especially during our meetings when independent film crews were showing up every week never to be seen again,” says the group’s Marco Ceglie.

The NYPD released a statement admitting "detectives collected information both in-state and out-of-state to learn in advance what was coming our way.” The department says the actions were meant to prevent violence and stop terrorists in their tracks.

The department contends all the activities were legal, but the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union disagrees.

"What we have reported here appears to be spying on lawful political protest, and it's the kind of spying that really has no place in a free and open society," says Lieberman.

This is just the latest controversy surrounding the NYPD's handling of the convention. Nearly 2,000 people were arrested during the four day event. Most of the charges were eventually dropped, but the way the protestors were treated in custody is still an ongoing debate.

"Yes the police are here to protect people, but they are also here to ensure free speech,” says Ceglie. “And the climate of intimidation, even like the intimidation factor of are they among us, watching us, taping us, that infringes on people's free speech"

The NYCLU is looking into taking legal action against the police department for all this. In the meantime several civil lawsuits are still pending against the department for those arrests made during the convention.

- Cindi Avila
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