Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) filed suit in federal court today seeking information on the role of the Secret Service in the disruption of a meeting of computer users last November. The incident, which occurred at the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, Virginia, has been described as an example of overzealous law enforcement activities directed against so-called computer "hackers."
On November 6, 1992, a group of people affiliated with the computer magazine "2600" were confronted by mall security personnel, local police officers and several unidentified individuals. The group members were ordered to identify themselves and to submit to searches of their personal property. Their names were recorded by mall security personnel and some of their property was confiscated. However, no charges were ever brought against any of the individuals at the meeting.
The Secret Service has not formally acknowledged its role in the November incident. However, a mall security official and the Arlington County Police have said that Secret Service agents were present and directed the activities of the mall security personnel.
"If this was a Secret Service operation, it raises serious constitutional questions. It is unlawful for the government to disrupt a meeting of people who are peaceably assembled and to seize their personal property. We have filed this FOIA suit to determine the precise role of the Secret Service in this affair," said CPSR Washington Director Marc Rotenberg.
CPSR submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Secret Service several days after the incident. To date, the agency has failed to respond. Under the law FOIA requesters may file suit in federal court when an agency has not complied with the legally imposed time limits.
CPSR, a national membership organization that protects civil liberties for computer users, previously filed a FOIA suit against the Secret Service after the agency was criticized for several poorly conducted investigations of computer users. Documents disclosed to CPSR from the Operation Sun Devil case revealed that the agency monitored publicly accessible electronic "bulletin boards."
CPSR has recommended the development of guidelines for computer crime investigations an called for a reassessment of the Secret Service's role in the computer crime field.
For CPSR membership information, contact CPSR ¥ PO Box 717 ¥ Palo Alto, CA 94302-0717 (415) 322-3778 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copies of CPSR documents are available via FTP and Gopher from cpsr.org, folder /cpsr