We live in an age of attacks on human and civil rights -- for instance, jailing people indefinitely without charging them with a crime and combating protestors violently, such as at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh a few months ago. People who dissent or engage in left-wing activism are right to worry about being charged with a crime despite not doing anything the Constitution doesn't allow.

To prepare activists for visits by federal law-enforcement agents, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has republished If an Agent Knocks, a 47-page booklet that it's distributing to the public free of charge. Originally published in 1989, the booklet was revised and updated this past September.

CCR describes its mission as follows. "The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization [and public interest law firm] committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change."

Underlying the booklet is, to borrow the motto of the Boy Scouts of America, is the concept "Be prepared." If an Agent Knocks isn't the kind of publication you consult for the first time when an agent knocks at your door. Before it happens, you should know what your rights are if the agent has an arrest warrant or search warrant or demands entry into your home without a warrant.

Do you have to speak to the agent? If so, what should you say? Do you have to let the agent into your house? Under some conditions the answers are "yes," and under others it's "no."
"Do you have to speak to the agent? If so, what should you say? Do you have to let the agent into your house?"If an Agent Knocks answers other questions, such as "Can agents search my trash?" What information should you look for in a search warrant? "What should I do if I receive a subpoena?" "How can I determine evidence of infiltration [of my organization]?" "What is a roving wiretap?" The answers to these can be scary stuff, but the booklet demystifies them, thereby enabling activists to take control, rather than become victims, of the situation.

Besides visits and searches, the booklet also delves into human and electronic surveillance via telephone conversations, Internet communications and electronic security, grand juries and resistance to them, and special considerations for noncitizens.

It provides a list of resources. Especially helpful are boxes called "Know Their Tools," which contain definitions of and other useful information on search warrants, "sneak-and-peak" searches, arrest and search warrants, undercover agents, cooperating witnesses, Title III wire tap orders, pen registers and "trap-and-trace" devices, "D orders," national security letters and grand jury subpoenas.


Download a copy of If An Agent Knocks.

The booklet repeatedly stresses that it is "for informational purposes only and does not contain legal advice." For answers "to specific legal problems, issues or questions, obtain the advice of a qualified attorney."

This modest booklet is a handy set of basic guidelines. It behooves activists to familiarize themselves with the issues it covers in case an agent tries to drop in on or phones you.

Linda Greene can be reached at lgreene@bloomington.in.us.

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If an Agent Knocks, by the Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, 47 pp., free, originally published in 1989 and revised and updated in Sep. 2009.