Lawyers representing two civil liberties groups are preparing to wage a legal battle over the Long Haul raid, and other constitutional rights groups are paying close attention.
Campus police, the FBI and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department raided the anarchist collective Aug. 27 and seized every computer in the building in search of the sender or senders of threatening e-mails to UC Berkeley scientists who experiment on animals.
“Attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild are working on a legal response with non-guild attorneys to respond legally,” said Carlos Villarreal, executive director of the guild’s Bay Area chapter. Joining with the guild are attorneys for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which specializes in civil liberties issues arising from the cyber world.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said the Long Haul raid raises a number of troubling issues, and Villarreal agreed.
“We definitely think that the search was excessive and that the warrant and statement of probable cause were insufficient,” said Villarreal, who noted that police entered the building with drawn pistols.
The search warrant affidavit UCPD Detective Bill Kasiske used to obtain judicial approval for the raid failed to mention that the building housed an alternative quarterly newspaper—an institution entitled to special protection under federal law, something that troubles Scheer and the attorneys.
“Slingshot is a quarterly, independent, radical, newspaper published in the East Bay since 1988 by the Slingshot Collective,” declared the publication’s website, adding that “[g]overnment seizure of Slingshot collective computers is a direct attack on freedom of the press and in particular, the independent, non-corporate, alternative press.”
“There could be problems under the federal Privacy Protection Act, a federal law which makes it harder to seize computers belonging to organizations in the business of disseminating information,” Scheer said.
Nothing in the search warrant indicated to the judge that police might seize a publication’s computers. The warrant also failed to mention that a number of groups were housed under the same roof. Officers also confiscated an unattached computer hard drive that contains the files of another news medium, Berkeley Liberation Radio.
In his affidavit, Kasiske specifically mentions that the Long Haul website “advertises that they offer a computer room with four computers for ‘activist-oriented access.’ ” He didn’t mentioned that the site’s home page specifically refers to the other groups, including Slingshot.
“I question whether the raid would have happened in the same way if the building housed a larger newspaper like the Daily Planet or a corporate medium like the San Francisco Chronicle, or even a business like Kinko’s where there are public computers,” Villarreal said.
Scheer said he wondered what police would have done had the e-mails been sent from the offices of Pacific Gas & Electric. “Would they have seized all the computers, say 500 of them? I don’t think so,” he said.
Scheer said he was particularly troubled that the affidavit made no mention of the publication, which federal law states must be treated differently.
“The fact that there’s a publication there doesn’t make it immune, but the federal statute does require” that police provide additional information “specific to that publication,” he said.
“If the rule is that all computers with the same Internet address are fair game, someone needs to announce that, because the public isn’t aware of it. It’s not intuitive,” Scheer said.
The issue could become even more complex if someone should send e-mails through an unsuspecting third party’s wireless [wi-fi] Internet connection, he said, something that could be done by a passing pedestrian or a neighbor.
In addition to the publication, other groups working out of the Long Haul include East Bay Prisoner Support, the Long Haul itself, the Anarchist Study Group and bicycling advocates Cycles of Change.
Villarreal said the seizure of the computers used by a number of activist groups “has a widespread chilling effect on other media, on others working in prisoner support and on people working on campaigns involved with law enforcement issues.”
The guild attorney said that in addition to the First and Fourth Amendment issues involving freedom of the press and freedom of association, the guild is working with individuals who might be targeted for prosecution because of the raid.
“There are also issues about getting the property returned,” he said, “as well as the potential for a civil rights lawsuit.”
On the day of the raid, Berkeley civil rights attorney James B. Chanin—whose office is a block north of the Long Haul on Shattuck Avenue—said he couldn’t imagine the judge “knew that the building housed many different organizations. It would shock me if the judge knew that.” He said a warrant targeting a specific group wouldn’t let police “go into a building and seize everybody’s stuff. But that’s what I believe happened, and that’s not right.”
Chanin hadn’t seen the affidavit at the time, but his comments proved prescient after the affidavit was filed with the court Sept. 8.
While Kasiske’s affidavit said nothing of the different organizations that are housed under the Long Haul’s roof and are mentioned at the organization’s website (http://thelonghaul.org), he did mention that the site “advertises that they offer a computer room with four computers for ‘activist oriented access.’ ”
Those terminals were housed in a separate part of the building, a loft level at the rear of the building isolated from the other computers police seized. They were also the only computers cited in the affidavit.
Some of the computers seized were housed behind padlocked doors in separate rooms, and police neatly removed the locks and hasps, taping them on the walls or doors next to their former locations.
Slingshot posted a message to staff and supporters after the raid: “Most of the computer data lost was backed up. We do not think that the police got a copy of our mailing list or distribution address list (which are maintained at another location on a different computer) and we wanted to re-assure our volunteer distributors that we do not think the police have your address.”
Villareal said that in addition to efforts on the legal front, “there should also be a political dimension” to the community’s response.
“In the long run,” he said, “that’s even more important.”