Quick Hit Steven Ross Johnson Wednesday February 15th, 2012, 10:55am

Ald. Munoz' Plan To Protect Free Speech During G8, NATO Summits

Chicago Alderman Rick Munoz said Tuesday legislation he plans to introduce on Wednesday prohibiting police from blocking access to social media and cell phone networks during the G8 and NATO summits in May, was intended to show that the city had a commitment to civil rights, and was not brought forth as a reaction to any intended police action.

The ordinance Munoz plans to introduce at today’s City Council meeting would also prohibit police from cooperating with any agency attempting to slow down, stop or monitor internet access to sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.

Measures to restrict Internet access have been highlighted over the past year by the governments of Egypt and Tunisia, as well as in the U.S., where police last summer in San Francisco turned off power to cell phone towers to prevent those protesting against police brutality from communicating.

Munoz, who has been alderman of the 22nd ward in the Little Village neighborhood for the past 18 years, said the upcoming summits marked a chance for Chicago to showcase itself to the world both in its ability to hold a safe and peaceful event, while maintaining the freedoms that allow demonstrators to express their rights to free speech.

“Some of us were talking about the upcoming G8/NATO [protest] activities, and nobody was really looking at how these sorts of activities were being organized and nowadays they are being organized through social media and cell phones,” Munoz said. “Looking at what happened in San Francisco and some of the things that have happened around the world in terms of governments wanting to quell communication, we just figured it [the ordinance] would be a good way of basically saying this is Chicago, we want to showcase our respect for the Constitution and for communication and we want to make sure that when it gets difficult that they don’t even consider it.”

May’s event marks the 38th year for the annual G8 summit, which has since 1975 brought together leaders of the world’s leading economies to discuss various global policies, including social and economic development, and has been the scene of violent clashes between police and demonstrators.

In anticipation, Mayor Rahm Emanuel in December announced a number of new security restrictions activists have criticized for being too suppressive, claiming they were designed to discourage mass demonstrations.

Under the mayor’s ordinance, gatherings in city parks and beaches are limited to Chicago Park District hours of operation from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Also, protesters  are required to provide their very own parade marshal for every 100 people in attendance. Although fines for resisting arrest were not changed, increases were approved in fines for violation of the parade ordinance, with the minimum up from $50 to $200.

Further criticism of Emanuel’s regulations came after the mayor admitted that they would indeed become permanent, and not a temporary measure just for the summits as he once claimed.

Munoz, who voted in favor of the mayor’s security restrictions that passed in January, said concerns were voiced to Emanuel regarding some of the restrictions, and that some of the more extreme ones were taken out of the final ordinance.

“We raised some concerns to the Mayor’s office and we said some of this is way too much,” Munoz said, referring specifically to regulation requiring all marches held downtown to get $1 million in insurance coverage as well as assembly restrictions. “They raked some of those [restrictions] back and ultimately I voted in favor of it because we do want to make sure that this is a peaceful time and peaceful gathering – what I’m talking about is basically being able to put down a marker to make sure that the police and the authorities don’t prohibitively and preemptively suspend that kind of communication with social media and cell phones.”  

When asked what kind of support he expected his proposal to get among his colleagues, Munoz simply said that’s what he would find out at Wednesday’s council meeting.

For their part, Chicago Police Department spokeswoman Melissa Stratton responded via email to Munoz’s proposed ordinance by stating, “We have no plans to do this.”

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