The nation's first local ordinance limiting police intelligence gathering was adopted unanimously today by the Seattle City Council.
The ordinance will go into effect Jan. 1. It prohibits police from collecting information on the lawful political, religious and sexual activities of Seattle citizens.
"The legislation is a message to police agencies nationwide that Americans will no longer tolerate unwarranted surveillance of political and personal activities," said Kathleen Taylor, coordinator of Seattle's Coalition on Government Spying.
The coalition, which represents the American Civil Liberties Union and 50 other groups, has been seeking an ordinance limiting police intelligence gathering in Seattle for nearly three years.
Taylor said similar efforts to stop political surveillance by police are under way in Chicago, New York, California, Michigan and Washington, D.C.
The Seattle ordinance is supported by the mayor, police chief and county prosecutor. All three were represented on the drafting committee that spent the past year writing the 7,000 word law.
When it goes into effect next year, "you can be pretty sure that if you're not breaking the law, you won't be in some Seattle police department file," said Hugh Spitzer, legal counsel to Mayor Charles Royer.
The ordinance grew out of 1975 disclosures that Seattle police had spied on, photographed and compiled extensive files on hundreds of political activists as well as community and church leaders.
Much of the information was collected in the late 1960s and early '70s, at meetings, benefits, demonstrations and other events.
The coalition, which went to court to obtain copies of some of the files, concluded that many contained "inaccurate, irrelevant, outdated, dangerous misinformation."
The ordinance allows information on an individual's political or religious activities to be collected only if it is relevant to criminal investigation or other legitimate police activities.
Such "restricted information" can not be collected without authorization from a police officer holding at least the rank of lieutenant, and only when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the target of the investigation is involved in criminal activity.
The use of informants and infiltrators is restricted to protect against unreasonable infringement of privacy.
Information about an individual's sexual habits may not be collected unless police suspicions involve a sex crime.
The ordinance provides for an independent auditor appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council. The auditor would review all authorizations for the collection of political and religious information.
If the auditor finds that information is collected in violation of the ordinance, he or she must notify the person involved. That person could then claim civil damages from the city, but no provision is made for criminal penalties for violating the ordinance.