Federal court reviews legality of NYPD Muslim surveillance program

Judge will rule whether strict limits on surveillance apply to the NYPD’s investigations into hundreds of Muslims.

 

A federal judge on Tuesday revisited at a decades-old court settlement restricting how the New York Police Department conducts surveillanceafter civil rights lawyers accused the department of breaking those rules by monitoring Muslims.

 

The dispute centers on the restrictions set by the Handschu decree, which was put in place in response to surveillance used against war protesters in the 1960s and 70s. The decree was relaxed following the September 11 terror attacks to allow police to more freely monitor political activity in public places.

 

“I’ve come to think of this case as a volcano that’s asleep most of the time … but every now and then blows up,” District Judge Charles Haight said at the start of a hearing in federal court in Manhattan.

 

The latest eruption stems from the NYPD‘s monitoring of Muslims, where they eat, study and worship as part of its counterterrorism efforts.

 

The police measures directed at Muslims violate the Handschu decree “because they’re not rooted in the fact that there’s a criminal predicate”, said plaintiff attorney Paul Chevigny. “They’re rooted in the fact that the subjects are Muslims.”

The city has countered by claiming that it closely observes the Handschu guidelines when making decisions about how to fight terror. A city lawyer, Peter Farrell, told the judge on Tuesday that the department launches investigations based on evidence of legitimate threats, not religion.

 

The civil rights lawyers filed the latest motion following a series of stories by the Associated Press that revealed the NYPD intelligence division infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups and investigated hundreds.