Police in New York City have agreed to destroy records of the past political affiliations of people arrested over recent weeks in anti-war demonstrations. Constitutional scholars and civil libertarians have argued that demanding the data from detainees violated rights of protest and free speech.
The row is a severe embarrassment to the police department, which has often been accused of violating constitutional rights. A spokesman said, however, that the Police Commissioner, Raymond Kelly, had been unaware that the data was being collected and had ordered that all records be destroyed as soon as he found out.
Officials confirmed that the department had assembled a database on hundreds of protesters who had been processed for arrest. Each person was required to complete a debriefing questionnaire detailing where they attended university and their past membership of political organisations.
Michael O'Looney, the department's chief spokesman, said: "Arrestees will no longer be asked questions pertaining to prior demonstration history, or school name. All information gathered since the form's inception on 15 February has been destroyed."
The campaign to have the policy reversed was led by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The group sent a letter to Commissioner Kelly this week alleging that his subordinates had "embarked upon a concerted campaign to collect information about lawful First Amendment activity".
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