The state of Pennsylvania has been paying a private contractor to spy on non-threatening protesters exercising their First Amendment rights, and then report on them to officials and corporate executives, and Gov. Ed Rendell says he’s embarrassed by the situation.
A lawsuit also is being promised and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported city councilman Doug Shields said some answers need to be supplied.
“There will be requests of information from the state government for an explanation of who these people are, who made the decision to essentially engage in espionage and who is behind it,” he said.
Published reports in Pennsylvania said the state had paid a non-profit organization $125,000 to compile a list of protesters in order to protect “public infrastructure.”
The work apparently involved protesters against shale gas drilling, a rally regarding education and anti-tax efforts.
The Department of Homeland Security then compiled a list of observations about the protesters and provided that to law enforcement and government officials as well as gas drilling companies, according to the Tribune-Review.
The report documented that Gene Stilp, an activist included on the list, is threatening to sue in federal court over the issue.
“When people’s civil rights are trampled it’s a federal issue,” he told the newspaper..
The institution that organized the information collecting, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, will not have its contract renewed, Rendell announced in a press conference on the issue.
He said he should have been told what was going on, but decided against dismissing Homeland Security chief James Powers because making him a “scapegoat” would accomplish nothing.
According to the Inquirer, Rendell said, “Let me make this as clear as I can make it. Protesting against an idea, a principle, a process, is not a real threat against infrastructure. Protesting is a God-given American right, a right that is in our Constitution, a right that is fundamental to all we believe in as Americans.”
The Post-Gazette reported news about the warnings came out via an e-mail the state actually sent – by mistake – to an opponent of a gas drilling project.