LOS ANGELES -- In an open letter, the California affiliates of the ACLU are urging State Attorney General Bill Lockyer to take "immediate steps to ensure that intelligence-gathering practices carried out in this state - whether by state, local or federal law enforcement officers - fully respect Californians' state constitutional right to privacy."
The letter comes in the wake of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's May 30th announcement that FBI guidelines designed decades ago to prevent abusive and inappropriate intelligence gathering practices were being significantly loosened. The letter was signed by the executive directors of all three California ACLU affiliates, representing 50,000 members statewide. The ACLU states in the letter that some of the practices now permitted under Ashcroft's new federal guidelines violate the right to privacy clause inserted by California voters into the state constitution in 1972.
"In short, California has drawn a line with respect to privacy, political and associational rights that government must not cross even with the best of intentions. Yet, some of the intelligence practices now openly encouraged by the new federal guidelines cross that long-standing state line," the letter says.
The federal government's greatly expanded intelligence operations include Joint Terrorism Task Forces throughout California that include state and local officers working closely with the FBI. The letter explains that officers working with the FBI on these joint operations "deserve immediate warning that state law - not Attorney General Ashcroft - defines what conduct is permissible within California."
"In these uncertain times it is of utmost importance that there be no confusion over potential conflicts between state and federal law," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU/SC. "The privacy rights of Californians must be protected; we cannot afford a return to the days when the FBI collected dossiers on thousands of Americans, among them the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., for doing nothing more than expressing their displeasure at government policies."