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DELAWARE: - ACLU sues Wilmington for info on police stun-gun use, phone tracking

OFF THE WIRE
Source: delawareonline.com
Written byCHAD LIVENGOOD
The News Journal
The ACLU of Delaware on Friday sued the city of Wilmington to gain access to information about how the police department uses stun guns and cellphone-tracking records.
Citing an anti-terrorism exemption in the Freedom of Information Act, the city has denied the local ACLU chapter access to both records. The city of Wilmington had no comment on the ACLU's lawsuit, a spokesman said.
American Civil Liberties Union chapters across the country are studying frequent use of phone records by law enforcement to track individuals, said Kathleen MacRae, executive director of the ACLU of Delaware.
The proliferation of cellphones and the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 has sparked fear among privacy advocates that police could abuse their ability to get phone records from telecommunication companies, MacRae said.
Among the records sought by the ACLU include policies and procedures for obtaining phone records; the use of cellphone records to identify calls made in a particular area; and the legal justification for obtaining phone records. The ACLU also wanted to know whether the city uses "digital fences" in which police are notified by telephone companies whenever a call comes from a specific geographic area.
"There's no oversight, there's no warrants, there's no reporting to the courts," MacRae said. "We're trying to come to an understanding of what it is they're doing. Because right now, anything goes."
Under the FOIA security exemption, Wilmington also has repeatedly denied the ACLU's request for police policies instructing officers when and how to deploy Tasers to subdue a subject.
An exemption to the open-records law added in 2002 in the wake of 9/11 allows the government to withhold information that includes "specific and unique response or deployment plans."
Prompted by "multiple deaths in Delaware resulting from questionable Taser use," the ACLU sought the information about electroshock weapon use from Wilmington and other police agencies in Delaware, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Superior Court.
"A significant body of evidence indicates that misuse of Tasers by law enforcement personnel has resulted in needless death and injury throughout the United States, and ACLU-DE seeks to determine whether changes in law enforcement policies, procedures and training with regard to Taser use in Delaware are necessary to protect the public," the lawsuit says.
The Delaware State Police, New Castle County and police agencies from other municipalities provided the requested Taser-related documents, the ACLU says in the lawsuit.
ACLU Legal Director Richard Morse has sought the Taser records since Dec. 17, 2010. As further evidence of its right to withhold the Taser information, the city cited an Aug. 1, 2005, attorney general's opinion denying The News Journal access to the police department's law-enforcement manuals.
Before filing suit, Morse repeatedly questioned the city's interpretation of the FOIA in a series of letters to the City Solicitor's Office.
In an email to Morse in August, Senior First Assistant City Solicitor Brenda James-Roberts said the city's opinion remained "unchanged," according to the lawsuit.
James-Roberts sent Morse an April 1 attorney general's opinion that she said "lends further support for the city's position that the information requested is not subject to disclosure under FOIA."
That opinion, written by Chief Deputy Attorney General Charlie Butler, involved The News Journal's pursuit of electronic card-swipe data for state Senate President Pro Tem Anthony DeLuca for his day job at the Department of Labor. The newspaper sought the information to see whether it matched DeLuca's attendance records at the Department of Labor.
Citing the same anti-terrorism statute, Butler denied the newspaper access to DeLuca's building entrance records because the law exempts information that "could endanger the life or physical safety of an individual." The city has not explained the relevance of Butler's opinion to the ACLU's request for Taser policies.

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