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Cops want privacy, but demand more information on citizens

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Law enforcement officers want anonymity in “open court.” - J. LOUIS BRYSON/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • J. Louis Bryson/Shutterstock.com
  • Law enforcement officers want anonymity in “open court.”
Donald Trump and the porn star known as Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford) used pseudonyms in the non-disclosure agreement worked out by the now-president’s seemingly suicidal lawyer Michael Cohen. They called themselves David Dennison and Peggy Peterson — but Trump still didn’t sign the document, which has gotten him into a fresh pile.

It is ironic that Trump and Daniels — the type of people whose livelihoods require an extreme level of visibility — end up craving privacy almost as much as they demand a spotlight.

But privacy is contradictory in our half-online lives. We can post without anyone knowing who we are, but we also broadcast the details of our lives on numerous platforms and essentially carry tracking devices in our pockets. Our emails damn us, even in their absence — just ask Hillary — and our texts can be turned against us — as FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page can surely attest to, as theirs were blasted around the world. Even our dumb Facebook posts and tweets follow us as we try to move into more respectable environs — see whatever Nazi sympathizer The New York Times op-ed page hired and fired this week.

Which brings me to my point: In a world where everything is shared, law enforcement officers continue to demand a kind of privacy not afforded to ordinary citizens. This is particularly clear in a recent filing in the case against protesters and bystanders caught up in the Disrupt J20 protests against Trump’s inauguration.

After losing the first trial against six defendants late last year and dropping charges against more than 100 others, who needlessly spent months fighting against what were ultimately unsustainable charges, prosecutor Jennifer Kerkhoff is gearing up to try the remaining 58 defendants. She found an undercover agent who has been infiltrating “the anarchist extremist movement” to testify as an expert witness on the “black bloc” technique — wearing black clothes, covering up identifying features, and moving as a “bloc.”

The government is charging numerous people who — even prosecutors admit — did not physically break any of the windows that were smashed during the inauguration and who engaged in no other violence. But, it seems the reasoning goes, if they covered their faces or wore black clothes, they abetted the anonymity of those who did, and are therefore guilty of the crimes.

In a twist, the government doesn’t want to reveal the name of its witness — the one who is allegedly an expert on techniques that are intended to protect privacy. Kerkhoff moved that she be called by a pseudonym “Julie McMahon,” in a possible nod to the McMahons of professional wrestling fame, or maybe to a tabloid divorcee who allegedly pursued Bill Clinton and was named “The Energizer” by the Secret Service. However the prosecution came up with the name, they argue that “Julie” won’t be able to continue her undercover activity if her identity is known.

“Given the repeated efforts to publicly disseminate identifying information about the prosecutor and law enforcement officers involved in this case (to include an MPD [Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C.] officer who acted in an undercover capacity), the government submits there is reason to believe that the expert will be targeted in the same manner,” Kerkhoff said.

Kerkhoff argues that when an undercover police officer testified in the first trials, people identified him. That’s not the fault of the press or the public. Don’t call an undercover officer to the stand if you don’t want to blow his cover. Or should they get to testify wearing black masks?

“Further, when the MPD officer stepped outside of the courthouse during his testimony, his photograph was taken and was disseminated on multiple social media accounts and in various media outlets,” the motion reads.
When he is outside the courthouse, it is neither illegal nor illegitimate to take his photograph. Kerkhoff complains again that “as the prosecutors and lead detective left the courthouse, their photograph was taken and published in media outlets.”

So, the black bloc is bad for not wanting to be surveilled and identified — not to mention tear-gassed and targeted with chemical grenades — by the state, but the agents of the state deserve anonymity, even in what used to be called “open court.”

The government also went to great lengths to prohibit the public from seeing police body cam footage, while Detective Gregg Pemberton spent a year combing through all of the personal data on the cellphones of those who were arrested. He has told me that he saw me all over the videos he had scoured and that he was looking for evidence of an illegal action. He is armed. And he is afraid of a photograph?

The department, however, denied a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Unicorn Riot to see his overtime slips during that period, despite allegations that he had falsely charged the city overtime while defending himself against a DUI charge in a previous case.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., and the MPD fought to protect the identity not only of their undercover officers, but also of the far-right slimeball Project Veritas operative who infiltrated an alleged planning meeting by the protesters.

Meanwhile, a list of the names of everyone arrested during the J20 protest was leaked to far-right site Got News from the official police computer of Metropolitan Police Department employee Rachel Schaerr, according to the metadata on the spreadsheet. The arrestees’ names are still on the site, which calls them “LEFT-WING ANARCHISTS AND ANTIFA TERRORISTS.”

This is part of a trend: Law enforcement wants ever greater access to information about individual citizens, while seeking to further shield themselves. The Maryland judiciary recently removed the names of police officers from its public database. That meant that a person could be arrested and cleared of all charges, but their name, address and birthdate would remain public unless they made the effort to expunge it. The officer who arrested them, meanwhile, would remain unknown to the public.

The move to shield cops from any accountability occurred amid one of the craziest police corruption scandals in modern history in Baltimore and stoked a serious uproar that caused the court to reverse its decision.

“It’s disgusting and it’s dishonorable,” David Simon, creator of The Wire, said of the attempt to hide police officers’ names in Maryland. “And generations of police officers that were capable of standing by their police work, publicly standing by their use of force, their use of lethal force, and their powers of arrest. Those generations are ashamed right now because this present one is pretending they are incapable of that level of responsibility.”

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