Feds, Denver attempt to keep DNC security info secret

The exact location of a public demonstration zone outside of the Democratic National Convention and information about how close activists will be to delegates could be legally sealed from the public if the United States Secret Service and the city of Denver can persuade a district judge to approve a protective order blocking the information.

Both federal and local law enforcement officials are seeking an order to keep secret the specifics over their planned demonstration zone for protesters outside the Pepsi Center, where the convention is set to be held in August, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.

On May 1 the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Denver and the Secret Service on behalf of 12 groups seeking information about where activists would be allowed to converge during the convention in a designated zone.

During a hearing for the suit on Monday, it was revealed that the city would be using a fenced-in portion of Parking Lot A near the front entrance of the Pepsi Center. However, law enforcement officials planning security for the convention have repeatedly declined to disclose details, including how close activists will be able to get to the delegates or the materials that will be used for fencing and other barricades surrounding the area.

Instead, the convention’s security preparers, citing national security concerns, may only share such information with court officials and with attorneys involved with the suit, a move that the ACLU says it opposes. City officials indicated months ago that a zone would be designated within sight and sound of the Pepsi Center during the convention, but the ACLU argues that its plaintiffs have a constitutional right to review the details and to ensure their First Amendment rights are protected.

“After those restrictions are disclosed, we intend to consult with our clients about whether we should challenge any of those restrictions in the second phase of the lawsuit. That consultation will be impossible if the attorneys are not allowed to discuss the restrictions with their clients,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the Colorado ACLU. “Accordingly, the plaintiffs attorneys will ask that the government bear the burden of showing that such extreme secrecy is necessary.  We don’t believe it is.”

The city attorney’s office did not return a request for comment, but another hearing in the suit is expected at the end of June to determine if a protective order is necessary for the information.

Silverstein has stated that the ACLU filed the lawsuit over concerns regarding First Amendment violations that occurred at the Democratic convention in Boston in 2004, where so-called protester "free-speech zones" — consisting of concrete barricades and fencing — were set up outside the convention site.

A Boston judge ruled that the zones were unconstitutional less than a month before the 2004 convention, but said that there was not enough time to change the plans.

Court papers show that the ACLU intends to seek a final court decision on the matter by Aug. 4, which is 20 days before the start of the convention.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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