Activist organizations file suit against FBI over raid, seizure of computers
Nick Cargo
Published: Wednesday January 14, 2009

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU of California have filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI and local authorities over the seizure and search of two organizations' computers, they jointly announced Wednesday.

On August 27, 2008, the University of California Police, the Alameda County Sheriff's Department and the FBI took part in a raid of the Berkeley offices of two politically active groups, Long Haul Infoshop and East Bay Prisoner Support Group (EBPS), seizing every computer in the building, even those behind locked doors, which were opened by force. The raid was conducted despite no allegations of wrongdoing on the part of either organization or any of their members, and the complaint questions the legality of the warrant obtained by authorities.

Long Haul Infoshop, an all-volunteer collective, provides community space, a lending library and Internet-connected computers to the public. It also publishes a quarterly newspaper called Slingshot. EBPS, while sharing its building, is not affiliated with Long Haul. EBPS publishes a newsletter of writing by prisoners, also distributes literature to, and advocates for, the prison population, including LGBT and female inmates.

The computers were eventually returned, but copies of their data were likely made. "As long as the government keeps the copies they made of these hard drives," ACLU staff attorney Michael Risher said, "they are continuing to violate the privacy of everyone who wrote or stored a document on the computers."

The seizures violated not only the federal Privacy Protection Act, but the First and Fourth Amendments, said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "The Slingshot and EBPS computers were clearly marked and left behind locked doors...Yet the raid officers broke into the offices to take information these organizations collected and relied on to publish information to their readership." The complaint also charges similar violations under the California Constitution.

Damages sought in the suit include legal fees, expenses, permanent injunctions to prevent retention or use of the copied data by all parties in possession thereof, and a judicial declaration that the organizations' rights under the United States and California Constitutions, and California state statute, were violated.

"We think the police should have treated us with the same respect due to any library whose public-access computers they suspected had been used for improper activity," said Long Haul's Jesse Palmer. "Instead of asking for our assistance, they used their investigation as an excuse to break into Long Haul, search through our records, and seize our computers."