PORTLAND — The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon today joined other ACLU chapters around the nation to file Freedom of Information Act requests with the FBI to determine whether the agency is spying on political and religious groups.
The ACLU said there is evidence the FBI and police are illegally spying on political, environmental and faith-based groups elsewhere in the country.
“It is now beyond dispute that the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces have been used to systematically spy on the lawful political and religious activities of individuals and organizations,” said Oregon ACLU Executive Director David Fidanque.
“Unfortunately, most of this activity has occurred under a cloak of secrecy so we don’t know how much of it is occurring in Oregon,” Fidanque said.
Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, repeated comments by FBI officials in Washington, D.C., who said all investigations are done under strict guidelines to ensure no individual or group is singled out.
“We’re here to protect constitutional rights,” Steele said. “That’s who were are, and what we do.”
The Oregon request is one of nearly a dozen FOIA requests filed around the country today by the national ACLU and its chapters seeking information about FBI and police surveillance.
All the requests seek FBI files to determine whether groups and individuals were targeted for speaking out or practicing their faith. In addition, the ACLU has filed a separate national request seeking information about the practices and funding structure of the FBI joint task forces.
“The FBI is wasting its time and our tax dollars spying on groups that criticize the government, like the Quakers in Colorado or Catholic Peace Ministries in Iowa,” said ACLU associate legal director Ann Beeson. “Do Americans really want to return to the days when peaceful critics become the subject of government investigations?”
Fidanque noted that Oregon law prohibits state and local police from collecting or maintaining files on the political, religious or social activities of individuals or organizations unless there is evidence of criminal activity.
Among the organizations included in the Oregon ACLU request are Portland Peace and Justice Works, the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, the Oregon Wildlife Federation, the American Friends Service Committee, In Defense of Animals, the Islamic Center of Portland and the ACLU of Oregon itself.
“The public has a right to know whether the types of abuses we’ve seen elsewhere are also happening in Oregon,” Fidanque said.