Skip to main content
The Web     
Powered by
powered by Yahoo!

NYPD wants end to political surveillance limits

Story Tools

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The New York City Police Department and the New York Civil Liberties Union battled in federal court Wednesday over whether a 1985 federal decree overly restricts police in terrorism investigations or whether the decree is necessary to protect First Amendment rights.

The NYPD, the defendant in this case, argued that a modified set of standards is necessary following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The NYCLU, the plaintiff, said the new standards would create an unacceptable level of intrusion into the lives of law-abiding political activists.

The decree stems from a 1985 class-action lawsuit settlement which established the Handschu Decree, named after Barbara Handschu -- one of the parties in the suit.

The decree stipulates the NYPD must have sufficient cause to conduct surveillance on individuals or groups, specifically a lead that causes police to believe an individual or group will commit a crime.

The decree does not allow police officers to perform surveillance if they suspect an individual of potentially plotting a terrorist attack, when that person has otherwise acted in a lawful manner.

"That's a problem," said NYPD lawyer Gail Donahue, "[because of] the covert nature of covert actions on the part of terrorist groups."

The new, modified Handschu decree would bring the standards to the "constitutional floor," said NYCLU lawyer Martin Stolar -- in other words, to the lowest level of protection afforded by the Constitution.

"The city aims to gut protections that were put in place 15 years ago," said Donna Lieberman, the NYCLU's executive director. "The changed word makes it all the more important to protect these rights."

The motion to modify the guidelines was filed in federal court last September and included an affidavit from NYPD Deputy Commission David Cohen, formerly with the CIA for 35 years, that said the current guidelines restrict the NYPD's ability to prevent terrorist acts.

Friday, Cohen sent Judge Charles Haight a letter that if the modified guidelines were accepted, the NYPD would adopt a series of internal guidelines very similar to guidelines set by Attorney General John Ashcroft for the FBI in 2002.

Lawyers for the NYCLU said this "promise" to create internal guidelines and the NYPD's proposed enforcement of the guidelines was not a sufficient compromise.

A decision is expected to be released in February.

Story Tools
Subscribe to Time for $1.99 cover
Top Stories
CNN/Money: Ex-Tyco CEO found guilty
Top Stories
CNN/Money: Security alert issued for 40 million credit cards

International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
Add RSS headlines.