Reversing its earlier position, the Maryland State Police announced today that people wrongly added to a multistate database of suspected terrorists may bring attorneys when they review their files and make copies of them before they are destroyed. State police have sent letters to 53 people, including environmental and peace activists, notifying them of their status in the database.
The American Civil Liberties Union became aware of the database when it sued the state police to learn more about a spying operation that began in 2005 and lasted about 14 months. The ACLU says it does not know the full extent of the spying and has called for legislation to prevent such activities in the future. State Police Col. Terrence B. Sheridan has called the operation, which took place before his administration, "disconcerting."
State police said they will purge files related to the monitoring after the subjects have had a chance to review their files. But until yesterday, police had said those people could not make copies of their files or bring lawyers. "We will not perpetuate future inappropriate action by providing copies that could be disseminated inappropriately," police spokesman Greg Shipley told The Baltimore Sun on Thursday.
A news release issued late yesterday did not explain the change in position.
ACLU attorney David Rocah said he believed that letters to the governor and discussions with the Maryland attorney general's office might have prompted the decision. "I'm glad that the state police are now obeying the law and doing what they should have done from Day One," he said. He said that some activists may choose to make their files public and that "we will now learn a lot more about what the state police were up to."