ASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday demanding more information about a Defense Department database that collected information on antiwar groups and U.S. citizens.
The lawsuit asks that the Defense Department turn over records it collected in its TALON database, developed by the Air Force in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a way to collect information about possible terrorist threats.
The CIA has adopted internal rules allowing it to define what
constitutes news and what doesn't, a Washington-based research group contended
in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Antiwar groups and others, including a Quaker group -- the American Friends Service Committee -- protested after it became public that the military had monitored antiwar activities, organizations and individuals who attended peace rallies.
"The U.S. military should not be in the business of maintaining secret databases about lawful First Amendment activities," said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner. "It is an abuse of power and an abuse of trust."
Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Greg Hicks said the Pentagon would not comment.
ACLU affiliates in Florida, Georgia, Rhode Island, Maine, Pennsylvania and Washington, and more than two dozen activist groups joined the lawsuit, which charges that the Pentagon is violating federal freedom-of-information laws by refusing to provide information on the database. The lawsuit was filed in Philadelphia.
Pentagon officials did an internal review of TALON -- the Threat and Local Observation Notice -- and concluded that it was an important tool in counterterrorism investigations. The review also found that as many as 260 reports were improperly collected or kept in the system.
At the time, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said there were about 13,000 entries in the database, and that less than 2% either were wrongly added or were not purged when determined not to be threats.
The ACLU lawsuit argues that the organizations and individuals monitored by the Pentagon have a right to know what information the military has collected about them.
"Spying on citizens for merely
executing their constitutional rights of free speech ...
marks a troubling trend for the United States," said
Joyce Miller, assistant general secretary for justice
and human rights of the American Friends Service