LOS ANGELES - In a letter sent today to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, the American Civil Liberties Union expressed utter dismay over revelations reported in Sunday's Oakland Tribune that the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center (CATIC) since 'day one' has been used to gather and analyze information on activists and protest activity and is being used to compile dossiers on a wide range of organizations. CATIC is a state intelligence agency that was established shortly after September 11 to analyze and disseminate information about terrorist threats
"This is civil liberties 101," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California. "We cannot allow political dissent to be equated with terrorism, not here in this country and certainly not in California. The state attorney general was given ample notice of the possibility that this would occur and we would like some answers."
In the letter, the ACLU calls upon the Attorney General to:
--Immediately direct CATIC to cease collecting information on individuals and organizations engaging in non-violent protest activity and order CATIC systems to be purged of such information.
--Immediately develop guidelines to ensure that CATIC is used only for disseminating information on true terrorist activity. The CATIC website states that only "reliable information that meets stringent guidelines for intelligence gathering and civil rights protections will be made available only to authorized local, state and federal law enforcement personnel as necessary to protect the health and safety of Californians and others at risk from criminal terrorist activity." As evidenced in news accounts, this clearly is not the case. Guidelines that must be implemented include a definition of terrorism that is narrowly drawn and not so expansive as to include any activity that has an economic impact, as well as clear regulations stating that political and social affiliations or beliefs not be considered in determining who is to be input into the CATIC system.
--Immediately issue guidance to state and local law enforcement agencies (as has been requested on three previous occasions) stating clearly that, pursuant to California's constitutional right to privacy, law enforcement agents may not surveil or monitor individuals or organizations engaged in peaceful protest activity in the absence of reasonable suspicion.
In a series of letters to the Attorney General, the ACLU has been calling upon the state's top law enforcement officer to ensure that Californians' right to privacy is protected. More than thirty years ago, Californians explicitly adopted by referendum a constitutional right to privacy specifically to stop the "proliferation of government snooping and data collecting [that] is threatening to destroy our traditional freedoms." White v. Davis (1975) 13 Cal.3d 757, 774 (quoting the ballot argument in favor of the initiative).
"Now, it appears that right is being sacrificed, not only by the federal government, but at the state level as well. We call on you to ensure that Californians? rights to free speech, assembly, and privacy are protected from state sponsored intrusions," concludes the ACLU in the letter. The letter was signed by the ACLU of Northern California and ACLU of Southern California.