ACLU calls plan to stop spying on groups weak

The Baltimore Sun

Calling the governor's plan too weak, the ACLU urged lawmakers yesterday to pass a more robust proposal aimed at preventing police monitoring of peaceful groups. Dozens of activists gathered at the State House for the organization's "No Spying Day."

Susan Goering, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said Gov. Martin O'Malley's bill "not only has loopholes but condones and protects" the kinds of spying and dossier-keeping that took place in a Maryland State Police operation revealed last summer after an ACLU lawsuit.

The ACLU supports an alternative bill sponsored by several Montgomery County legislators. Both are legislative reactions to the state police program, which began in 2005 and lasted about 14 months under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration.

More than 50 individuals and organizations - including the anti-abortion group Defend Life and the gay-rights group Equality Maryland - were improperly labeled as involved with terrorism.

Police files also show that state troopers went undercover to infiltrate anti-death penalty and anti-war groups, spending hundreds of hours gathering information.

O'Malley, a Democrat, condemned those tactics, and the state police superintendent said the agency has changed its policies on surveillance of peaceful groups. A spokesman for O'Malley said the governor's bill is a "strong and direct response" to the operation.

O'Malley's bill adopts recommendations made by former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, who investigated the spying operation and concluded that it was "misguided."

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