ACLU takes fight over State Police social media policy to Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The ACLU of Pennsylvania is continuing their fight in court against the Pennsylvania State Police over its social media monitoring policy.

The two parties will go before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Tuesday.

In March 2017, the ACLU filed a right-to-know request for PSP’s policy but says it was sent a heavily-redacted version in return.

An ACLU spokesman said Monday that the blacked-out, edited policy doesn’t provide any meaningful information and that the public deserves to know how, when and why Pennsylvania State Police monitors online activity.

“Because it’s a government agency, there has to be transparency, there has to be a check on their power,” said Andy Hoover of the Pennsylvania ACLU. “We’re not saying that they have to release every word, but they have to release more than this.”

Hoover said their lawsuit seeks transparency.

“What boundaries do they put on the monitoring, who has to give approval, basically whatever is in the policy that would be of public interest,” he said.

But interest on the ACLU’s part has turned from curiosity to wonder. What exactly is behind those blacked-out sections of the State Police social media policy?

“If the state police are doing everything appropriately, then why are they afraid of the public?” Hoover asked. “The public should know what kind of online monitoring they’re doing.”

The ACLU’s inquiry was inspired by police departments in other states that have been forced to change practices once their policies were revealed and showed police tracking an online user’s keywords or phrases. Hoover doesn’t want that here in Pennsylvania.

“Are they doing it in a way that’s fair? Are they doing it in a way that’s democratic? They need to be more transparent and accountable to the public,” he said.

One blacked-out section of the policy is entitled “Authorization procedures for the use of online aliases and online undercover activity.” Hoover said the public deserves to know how and when they’re tracked.

“It’s another example, unfortunately, of law enforcement agencies thinking that they can act in secret without transparency. That’s not how it works in our style of government,” Hoover said.

State Police had a short response to ABC27’s questions about that heavily redacted policy, telling us simply, “The Pennsylvania State Police does not comment on pending litigation.”

The ACLU said police are claiming it’s a public safety threat to release their full policy and that they can unilaterally deem something as such, without court input, but the ACLU disagrees.

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