SACRAMENTO -- Federal authorities may now have broad powers under the USA Patriot Act to monitor the public in its fight against terrorism, but guidelines distributed last month by the California attorney general's office contradict the surveillance methods used by federal agencies -- and advise local police to observe stricter state limits when it comes to spying on the public.
"Put bluntly, it is a mistake of constitutional dimension to gather information for a criminal intelligence file where there is no reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity, the guidelines state.
The guidelines, entitled "Criminal Intelligence Systems: A California Perspective," were prompted by concerns over law enforcement responses to antiwar protests.
In Fresno, a sheriff's deputy serving on an antiterrorist detail posed as a peace activist -- a fact unknown until after his death, when a photo accompanying his obituary caught the attention of Peace Fresno, the antiwar group he had joined.
"For six months, he participated in our meetings and events. He used a false name, lied about his occupation, and pretended to be sympathetic to our views. We gave him our trust," the group said during an Oct. 5 press conference at the steps of the sheriff's department.
In San Francisco, police apologized for videotaping antiwar protesters without first getting the required clearance from the upper brass.
In Oakland, police were tipped in April by the California Antiterrorism Information Center of antiwar activities, which spawned some of the most violent clashes between protesters and police in the early weeks of the Iraq war.
The events in Oakland prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to urge state Attorney General Bill Lockyer to issue the guidelines. The ACLU contends that the information center, run jointly by the state and federal government to share homeland security intelligence, was misused for the possible purpose of quashing political dissent.
The 134-page document was distributed with little fanfare to every police department and sheriff's office. It is hardly a concise list of dos and don'ts, but rather a lawyerly analysis of some of the existing laws governing privacy, free expression, and intelligence gathering by law enforcement.
The guidelines say that proper "boundaries" and oversight "are critical to maintaining the appropriate balance between public safety and fundamental rights such as free speech, assembly, and privacy."
Activists and civil libertarians applauded release of the guidelines.
"We're pleased the attorney general has drafted this document. The attorney general is making it very clear that local law enforcement can't be spying on people" without adequate reason, said Francisco Lobaco, the legislative director of the ACLU in California. "The Constitution gives us the right to protest, to assemble without fear that government is going to be watching our every move."
The guidelines are meant to be a "guiding light" for local authorities, said Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Lockyer.
"It made a lot of sense to us to put out some guidelines," Barankin said.
"The Patriot Act has given many people out there [reasons] to express concern about what law enforcement is doing," Barankin said.
The Patriot Act was enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and gave federal law enforcement broad powers to monitor public activity, and gave federal authorities latitude in obtaining financial records, travel itineraries, and library records -- among a host of other information -- without a person's consent. Critics say the act is an assault on civil liberties, and there is continuing debate in Congress over whether to narrow or expand its provisions.
The state guidelines will not change the way the federal government conducts its business and cannot force local law enforcement agencies to do so either, said Barankin.
The Fresno Sheriff's Department says it has no plans to change its policies, and was unapologetic over the Peace Fresno incident.
The department is aware of Lockyer's guidelines, "but the attorney general's document does not dictate how we will operate," said Lieutenant Marty Rivera. "We feel we are following those guidelines."