Big Blue Brother

How Cops Use State-of-the-Art Surveillance Against Demonstrators

FBI assistant special agent Thomas J. Harrington, who oversees the Philadelphia security effort, recently told The Philadelphia Inquirer: "After the Atlanta Olympics, it was bombings that were the main focus. . . . Now protesters have become more of a focus."

Activists are aiming to show law enforcement that its preemptive maneuvers will not squelch the recent surge in protest enthusiasm. A slew of First Amendment lawsuits—many of which came out of the D.C. World Bank protests—is one way to hold the line on police violations, according to Gage. But activists say the real victory for political expression will come when demonstrators fill the streets.

Activist groups are advising would-be convention protesters to be attuned to possible surveillance and ignore the bait of planted agitators if they want to stay out of jail until protest day. The National Lawyers Guild says no one is required to answer FBI inquiries without legal representation or unless subpoenaed. Above all, protest coordinators urge, lone demonstrators should join an organized group in advance and attend trainings on how to deal with police.

For activists who are spooked or discouraged by police monitoring, Torres says, it is helpful to view law enforcement activity as a sign that "the other side takes you very seriously."

Indeed, Churchill argues, activists cannot overestimate the seriousness of law enforcement's surveillance activities. "You can only be paranoid if you have an irrational fear," he says. But to be suspicious these days is "an objective assessment of reality."


For information about demonstrations at the Republican convention in Philadelphia, see "Converging on the GOP."
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