FBI monitored free speech in counterterrorism investigation

A Washington Post report today details how the FBI’s counterterrorism unit monitored several Web sites calling for protests on the 2004 Republican and Democratic national conventions.

“It’s increasingly clear that the government is involved in political surveillance of organizations that are involved in nothing more than lawful First Amendment activities,’ said Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU. “It raises very serious questions about whether the FBI is back to its old tricks.” — Washington Post

It’s one thing, and frightening enough, for the FBI to be monitoring political speech. It’s quite another that the counterterrorism unit was doing it. The FBI claims to have been concerned that the groups in question would attempt to disrupt the conventions somehow.

Groups such as RNC Not Welcome in NYC and United for Peace and Justice were targeted in the investigation. During the convention in New York, over 1,000 innocent people, including members of the press, were herded along side streets, arrested and held for up to several days at Pier 57 downtown.

Update: Irregular Times has an excellent commentary on this situation.