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Do Capitol Police Violate First Amendment in Intelligence Work?

The U.S. Capitol Police is facing criticism from former analysts, who say that they were tasked with scrutinizing a wide array of people associated with legislators, Politico reports. Employment lawyer Dan Gebhardt, who represents five former officers who worked in the department's intelligence unit, says his clients believe the department was overzealous in its intelligence gathering and that there were First Amendment issues with its practices. The officers were asked to research relatives of members of Congress as well as, on one occasion, a religious leader who officiated a funeral attended by a member of Congress. Fed up with these practices, the five analysts lodged complaints with the department's chain of command, the department's Office of Professional Responsibility and Inspector General, and Congressional committees. The department's top brass, which includes a new chief and two new directors of its intelligence division all installed since last year's Capitol riot, staunchly defend their practices. The former analysts have objected to the Capitol Police's Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division, and the manner in which it assesses threats to lawmakers for meetings and events taking place away from Capitol Hill.

In years past, members of Congress often shared information about these offsite gatherings with Capitol Police, including dates, times, locations, and expected attendees. The analysts contend that after the Capitol riot, the process was expanded. The analysts say they were tasked with scouring the social media profiles of attendees, which sometimes included congressional staff. The department said, “These old accusations continue to be misleading. The [Capitol Police] uses the same common sense best practices as other protective agencies to ensure the safety of Members of Congress and the public at a time when threats against lawmakers are higher than ever. An event assessment is only done at the request of the Member’s office or protection detail and are much more limited than a threat investigation. The work is ethical and lawful. Nevertheless, we requested an independent review by the Inspector General.” The department's chief, J. Thomas Manger, said the intelligence unit's practices are “strictly limited to gathering basic information about the event that ensures the safety of Members" and that they only collect “basic background information” on people attending events. He claimed that they only check social media pages when they fear a person could pose a risk to a member of Congress. Still, civil libertarians say that analyzing the social media profiles of people who are not suspected of a crime is a violation of First Amendment rights.


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