Surveilance, mass arrests, endless lawsuits: The legacy of the 2004 RNC

All you protester-types gearing up for the RNC in St. Paul would do well to study up on all that has been written about the surveillance, mass arrests and lawsuits of the last convention, held in New York City in 2004. Four years later, there is still court activity. Most recently, it was a subpoena issued by the New York City Law Department and served to Tad Hirsch, a doctoral student at M.I.T. who invented the service called TXTmob that allowed activists at the 2004 RNC to communicate in real time, via text messages, about actions going on throughout the city.

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According to the New York Times:

Lawyers representing the city in lawsuits filed by hundreds of people arrested during the convention asked Mr. Hirsch to hand over voluminous records revealing the content of messages exchanged on his service and identifying people who sent and received messages. Mr. Hirsch says that some of the subpoenaed material no longer exists and that he believes he has the right to keep other information secret.

“There’s a principle at stake here,” he said recently by telephone. “I think I have a moral responsibility to the people who use my service to protect their privacy.”

The subpoena, which was issued Feb. 4, instructed Mr. Hirsch, who is completing his dissertation at M.I.T., to produce a wide range of material, including all text messages sent via TXTmob during the convention, the date and time of the messages, information about people who sent and received messages, and lists of people who used the service.

In a letter to the Law Department, David B. Rankin, a lawyer for Mr. Hirsch, called the subpoena “vague” and “overbroad,” and wrote that seeking information about TXTmob users who have nothing to do with lawsuits against the city would violate their First Amendment and privacy rights.

The article also revisits some rather staggering numbers:

The subpoena is connected to a group of 62 lawsuits against the city that stem from arrests during the convention and have been consolidated in Federal District Court in Manhattan. About 1,800 people were arrested and charged, but 90 percent of them ultimately walked away from court without pleading guilty or being convicted.

Many people complained that they were arrested unjustly, and a State Supreme Court justice chastised the city after hundreds of people were held by the police for more than 24 hours without a hearing.

Another New York Times story, published one year ago, examined law enforcement action before the convention--a rather comprehensive and nationwide effort:

For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews.

From Albuquerque to Montreal, San Francisco to Miami, undercover New York police officers attended meetings of political groups, posing as sympathizers or fellow activists, the records show.

They made friends, shared meals, swapped e-mail messages and then filed daily reports with the department’s Intelligence Division. Other investigators mined Internet sites and chat rooms.

I'll leave all the civil liberties talk to the experts. Me, I've got a date with Rockwell:

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