ACLU: FBI kept details of Muslims’ religious practices in violation of privacy rules

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday released records it obtained from the FBI that it said showed the bureau’s San Francisco division used its Muslim outreach efforts to collect intelligence on religious activities protected by the Constitution.

Under the U.S. Privacy Act, the FBI is generally prohibited from maintaining records on how people practice their religion unless there is a clear law enforcement purpose. ACLU lawyers said the documents, which the organization obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed violations of that law.

After reviewing the ACLU documents, the FBI said the reports that contained notes about religious activity were appropriate because the agents were meeting with members of the Muslim community for law enforcement purposes.

FBI agents are required to document their contacts and their activities. In the documents released by the ACLU, religious information was included as an aside and was not the focus of the reports. But because the information was entered into FBI files at all, it was available to be searched by investigators nationwide.