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Civil liberties lawyers Thursday asked a federal judge to tighten restrictions on police surveillance of political groups, saying the NYPD’s recent questioning of anti-war protesters raised serious concerns. In a motion delivered Thursday to Southern District of New York Judge Charles S. Haight Jr., the attorneys said the New York Police Department’s questions asked of protesters — including whether they were against the war in Iraq and what they thought of Palestine — unmasked “an Intelligence Division that is out of control.” The attorneys asked Haight to explicitly incorporate the internal rules on political investigations into his court order so plaintiffs could bring contempt proceedings when those rules are violated. Assistant Corporation Counsel Gail Donoghue, representing the Police Department, said in a statement that the motion had no merit because the questioning was constitutional. She added, “The plaintiffs ignore the fact that the people who were questioned had been arrested because they had committed criminal acts.” Haight earlier this year agreed to give the NYPD more leeway in investigating political groups, saying that an 18-year-old consent decree regulating such surveillance was outdated and could hinder terrorism investigations. But the judge agreed only to loosen the restrictions on the condition that the NYPD would create internal guidelines — modeled on those of the FBI — to instruct officers on political surveillance. Those guidelines, however, are not part of the court’s decree, and the city claims they confer no rights on citizens other than those already protected by the U.S. Constitution. Provisions of the old decree, known as the Handschu Guidelines, barred officers from inquiring into political groups unless criminal activity was clear and they received permission from a three-member panel known as the Handschu Authority. Under the new decree, officers need only have a law enforcement purpose before beginning an investigation. The old decree, which settled civil rights claims dating back to 1971, was in effect at the time the protesters were arrested. The attorneys said in court papers Thursday that the questions would have violated even the new version of the decree because they sought to obtain information about constitutionally protected rights and to record those details in a database without written approval or a criminal predicate. Protesters were asked questions from a “Demonstration Debriefing Form,” such as their name, school name and prior demonstration history. The attorneys said additional questions included, “Are you registered to vote?” and “Don’t you think it was necessary for the U.S. to become involved in World War II?” The attorneys allege that officers clearly suggested to protesters that they would be held longer if they refused to answer the questions. When the questioning came to light last week, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said that neither he nor David Cohen, deputy commissioner of intelligence, knew about the practice, and that he ordered it to stop. The department later said it had deleted the database of information but would continue to ask protesters what groups they were affiliated with, though without recording their names. Department officials also denied that the protesters had a right to counsel, since they were being debriefed and not interrogated. ‘ACTUAL AIM’ In its court papers Thursday, the attorneys charged that the NYPD’s recent questioning demonstrated the “actual aim” of their request to modify Handschu: “to permit uncontrolled and profligate investigations of political beliefs and actions.” The attorneys requested oral arguments on their motion to include the internal guidelines into Judge Haight’s final order. They also pointed out that the judge had arguably incorporated the rules when he first approved the decree in late March. The judge later changed the wording of his ruling after city attorneys objected to it, saying in a letter that the judge’s ruling would “be at odds” with a disclaimer in the internal rules that “makes plain that the new investigative guidelines create no enforceable rights.”

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