Judge Orders DOD to Expedite ACLU Records Request

By Judith Scherr
Friday June 02, 2006

A federal court judge last week ordered the Department of Defense to expedite a Freedom of Information request made by the ACLU of Northern California on behalf of UC Berkeley Stop the War Coalition and UC Santa Cruz Students Against the War.  

The American Civil Liberties Union claims that the DOD’s TALON (Threat and Observation Notice) program collected data on both groups, as reported in December by MSNBC, and filed a lawsuit in March in federal court calling for the DOD to expedite the process of releasing the information. 

“Expediting the process” means moving the request to the front of the queue, said Mark Schlosberg, police practices policy director for the ACLU of Northern California. 

“I expect we’ll get the information in days or weeks—not months,” Schlosberg said. 

“There’s an urgency to inform the public, involving alleged government spying on Americans,” he added. 

The information the ACLU wants released concerns allegations of government data collection related to a campus Stop the War Coalition protest in April 2005. Information on the protest was reportedly collected by government agents and stored in the DOD’s TALON database. 

At UC Santa Cruz data was allegedly collected at a protest against military recruiting on campus last year. 

According to U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup’s order, the decision was influenced by some 70 news articles on the subject and inquiries into the TALON system by public officials including Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Bill Nelson, R-Fl., and Representatives Sam Farr, D-Calif., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. and Robert Wexler, D-Fl. 

“On December 14, 2005, MSNBC.com published an article revealing that the Department of Defense had been gathering information on political protests within the United States,” according to Alsup’s order. “The article stated that about 40 anti-war gatherings were documented over six months, ranging from street demonstrations in Los Angeles to a planning session by Quaker peace activists. MSNBC.com said the information was gathered as part of the TALON … system …. The program was designed to gather information on terrorism and threats to military bases.” 

Getting the information is particularly critical at this time, Schlosberg said. 

“As we’ve seen in the last several weeks, issues of domestic surveillance are in the forefront,” he said.  

The San Francisco Bay Guardian joined ACLU as a plaintiff in the case. According to the judge’s order, the ACLU “asked for expedited processing on the grounds that they had a compelling need for the information because the Bay Guardian was a news organization that needed the information urgently to inform the public about alleged federal government activity. They also alleged that the military’s domestic gathering of intelligence on political activities was a breaking news story.” 

The Department of Defense did not respond before deadline to requests for comment.