Political activists around the nation believe police and FBI surveillance of their activities has increased markedly since the 2001 terror attacks and passage of the USA Patriot Act loosening some of the strictures on law enforcement, says the Christian Science Monitor. To try to find out if law officers are spying on them, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed freedom of information requests for more than 150 groups and individuals in more than 20 states who believe their first amendment rights are being violated.
Local police and the FBI insist that they are not trying to chill political speech. All investigations are conducted under strict guidelines put in place after abuses were documented during the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The FBI says peace and environmental activists are confusing legitimate investigation of potential terrorist or criminal activity with free-speech violations. Peace activists say law enforcement misuses the fear of terrorism to impede legitimate speech.