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NYPD wins motion to curb political surveillance

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Restrictions on political surveillance in New York City could be lessened in the wake of a federal judge's decision Tuesday to accept a New York Police Department request for modified guidelines.

The NYPD filed a motion last September saying a 1985 federal decree to limit political surveillance overly restricts the department in terrorism investigations following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The ruling stipulates the NYPD must have sufficient cause to conduct surveillance on individuals or groups, specifically to lead officials to believe an individual or group would commit a crime.

The New York Civil Liberties Union fought to have the motion blocked, arguing the original degree -- known as the Handschu Decree -- was necessary to protect First Amendment rights.

The decree stemmed from a 1985 class-action lawsuit settlement that established rules for political surveillance. It was nicknamed after Barbara Handschu, one of the parties in the suit.

That lawsuit claimed that the New York Police Department unfairly targeted individuals engaged in political rallies or demonstrations for surveillance.

Federal Judge Charles Haight heard oral arguments in January from NYPD lawyer Gail Donoghue and from several lawyers for the New York Civil Liberties Union, all of whom participated in the original 1985 case.

Days before the hearing, David Cohen, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for intelligence, sent Haight a letter stating the NYPD would adopt a series of internal guidelines very similar to new guidelines set by Attorney General John Ashcroft for the FBI in 2002 if modification of the guidelines were allowed.

In his decision, Haight agreed to accept the modifications on two conditions.

First, the NYPD must submit the new proposed internal guidelines to the NYCLU.

Second, the NYPD must submit a document to the court stating that every commander on the police force has received a copy of the new guidelines and has informed officers under their command about them.

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