Lawsuit Contends Surveillance Database Is Too Lax on Reporting Criteria

July 11, 2014

WASHINGTON — Intent on not overlooking clues about any terrorist plots after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government spread a now-familiar slogan: “If you see something, say something.” Less visibly, it built a national database to better harness reports of suspicious activity in the hunt for terrorists.

On Thursday, five California men opened a legal front over the recurring tensions between collective security measures and individual rights by filing a lawsuit that challenges the Suspicious Activity Reporting database. They contend that it is too easy for people engaged in innocuous activities to be put into the database and scrutinized as if they were a threat.

The plaintiffs include two white photographers who were confronted by security guards at a natural gas tank and by the police at a refinery; an Egyptian-American who tried to buy a large number of computers at a Best Buy store; a Pakistani-American who was looking around in a train station with his mother, who wore a Muslim head scarf; and a white Muslim convert who was looking at a flight simulator game on the Internet.

Each contends that he was added to the database for his behavior, although only two, according to previously disclosed government documents, have been able to prove it. The lawsuit argues that federal standards are too lax in allowing a security guard’s or a police officer’s report to be uploaded into the national database.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to the lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco. The suit was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, working with lawyers for the law firm Bingham McCutchen.

The lawsuit also contends that the system can lend itself to racial profiling. It points to reports involving plaintiffs like Khaled Ibrahim, an American citizen of Egyptian descent who lives in San Jose, Calif. The suit said that he worked as a purchasing agent for a computer consulting and service company and that “on several occasions” in 2011 tried to buy a large number of computers for the firm at a Best Buy store, which told him it did not sell computers in bulk.

Mayor Says New York City Will Settle Suits on Stop-and-Frisk Tactics

January 30, 2014

 

The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) today welcomed an agreement proposed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for the city to reach a settlement in its legal battle over the controversial NYPD “stop-and-frisk” policy.
That policy involved stopping, questioning and frisking people in primarily African-American and Latino neighborhoods. Last year, a federal judge found that the police tactic was unconstitutional, calling it “a policy of indirect racial profiling.”

The mayor and the Center for Constitutional Rights announced a deal to drop the city’s appeal of a court ruling and that would accept the remedies ordered by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin including the appointment of outside monitor, Peter L. Zimroth, to oversee reforms.
In making the announcement, which he said he hoped would end a turbulent chapter in the city’s racial history, Mr. de Blasio offered a sweeping repudiation of the aggressive policing practices that had been a hallmark of his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, but that had stoked anger and resentment in many black and Latino neighborhoods. He essentially reversed the course set by Mr. Bloomberg, whose administration had appealed the judge’s ruling.

“We’re here today to turn the page on one of the most divisive problems in our city,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. “We believe in ending the overuse of stop-and-frisk that has unfairly targeted young African-American and Latino men.”
The judge, Shira A. Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan, found that the department’s stop-and-frisk tactics were unconstitutional, and that it had resorted to “a policy of indirect racial profiling.” At the height of the program, in the first quarter of 2012, the police stopped people — mostly black and Latino men — on more than 200,000 occasions. A vast majority of those stopped were found to have done nothing wrong.

Judge Scheindlin had ordered the appointment of a monitor to develop, in consultation with the parties, widespread reforms of the department’s “policies, training, supervision, monitoring and discipline regarding stop-and-frisk.” That process will go forward as part of the agreement.

NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/31/nyregion/de-blasio-stop-and-frisk.html?_r=0
Cair.com: http://cair.com/press-center/press-releases/12351-cair-ny-welcomes-mayors-deal-to-end-nypd-stop-and-frisk.html

U.S. to Expand Rules Limiting Use of Profiling by Federal Agents

January 16, 2014

 

The Justice Department will significantly expand its definition of racial profiling to prohibit federal agents from considering religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation in their investigations, a government official said Wednesday.

The move addresses a decade of criticism from civil rights groups that say federal authorities have in particular singled out Muslims in counterterrorism investigations and Latinos for immigration investigations.

The Bush administration banned profiling in 2003, but with two caveats: It did not apply to national security cases, and it covered only race, not religion, ancestry or other factors.
Since taking office, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has been under pressure from Democrats in Congress to eliminate those provisions. “These exceptions are a license to profile American Muslims and Hispanic-Americans,” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said in 2012.

It is not clear whether Mr. Holder also intends to make the rules apply to national security investigations, which would further respond to complaints from Muslim groups.

“Adding religion and national origin is huge,” said Linda Sarsour, advocacy director for the National Network for Arab American Communities. “But if they don’t close the national security loophole, then it’s really irrelevant.” Ms. Sarsour said she also hoped that Mr. Holder would declare that surveillance, not just traffic stops and arrests, was prohibited based on religion.

While the rules directly control only federal law enforcement activities, their indirect effect is much broader, said Fahd Ahmed, the legal director of the Queens-based South Asian immigrant advocacy group Desis Rising Up and Moving. For instance, he said, immigration bills in Congress have copied the Justice Department profiling language. And civil rights groups can use the rules to pressure state and local agencies to change their policies. “Federal guidelines definitely have an impact,” Mr. Ahmed said. “Local organizers can say, ‘These policies are not in line with what’s coming from the federal level.’ ”
NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/16/us/politics/us-to-expand-rules-limiting-use-of-profiling-by-federal-agents.html?_r=0

NYC defends Muslim surveillance in court; plaintiffs say suspicions were based on innuendo

NEW YORK — The New York Police Department had legitimate reasons to put specific mosques and Muslim worshippers under surveillance as part of its counterterrorism efforts, a city lawyer said Thursday at the first court date in a civil rights lawsuit accusing the NYPD of religious profiling.

Peter Farrell of the city Law Department argued that before the case goes forward, the city should be allowed to present evidence specific to the six plaintiffs that he said would prove police were acting with legitimate law enforcement purposes. If the judge agrees, “then this case is over,” he said.

An American Civil Liberties Union attorney, Hina Shamsi, countered that her clients already had sufficient legal standing to sue the city and that the NYPD should be ordered to begin turning over sensitive reports and documents detailing the alleged spying on Muslims.

In a letter filed on Tuesday, city lawyers outlined evidence they say shows that a security team at a mosque named as a plaintiff in the suit sponsored survival training outings and referred to team members as “jihad warriors.” Another plaintiff mosque was frequented by a man convicted earlier this year of lying to the FBI about plans to team up with the Taliban or al-Qaida, the letter said.

The NYPD didn’t target particular mosques “simply because the attendees were Muslim,” the letter said. “Rather, the NYPD followed leads suggesting that certain individuals in certain mosques may be engaging in criminal and possibly terrorist activity.”

In response, the ACLU accused the city of vilifying its clients “through inflammatory and insinuation and innuendo, suggesting (they) are worthy of criminal investigation on the basis of First Amendment-protected speech, activities or attenuated — and unwitting — association alone.”

It added: “This strategy is a deliberate distraction at best. At worst, it verges on the very type of discriminatory and meritless profiling at the heart of this case.”

Police violence against protesters in Hamburg

July 21

 

On Saturday, approximately 1000 people demonstrated in Hamburg against “racist police profiling” and asked to stop police violence. Also, 300 demonstrators protested in the city of Offenbach for the same cause.

 

A routine police check escalated in the Northern part of Hamburg, when police was confronted with rioting inhabitants. The police reacted with pepper gas. Since then police control increased in the last week, profiling Turkish and Arabic youngsters. A mosque was controlled and investigated. With respect to the month of Ramadan, many visitors were in the mosque proceeding midnight prayers. Police has entered the mosque threatening the visitors with batons.

 

A young participant Soufian D. witnessed the police to be violent injuring three Muslims. The policemen are said to threaten the young Muslims “better not to speak with the press”. The police authorities of Offenbach have deny the incident. According to the police, it reacted to an alert. Having checked the identities of witnesses, some would be non-cooperative and resistant, injuring the hand of one policeman.

LAPD gets new guidelines for handling ‘Suspicious Activity Reports’

The L.A. Police Commission has approved rules for handling ‘Suspicious Activity Reports’ that offer some safeguards against racial profiling and reporting of activity protected by the 1st Amendment.

 

In Los Angeles, as elsewhere in this country, fear of enemies in our midst — be they Communists, trade unionists or foreign terrorists — too often has led to violations of the privacy of law-abiding Americans. Given that history, civil libertarians and members of the Muslim community were right to press the Los Angeles Police Department to ensure that a program designed to detect possible terrorist activity doesn’t cast suspicion on individuals whose only “offense” is to exercise their right to free speech or belong to a particular ethnic or religious group.

 

The result is an amended set of guidelines approved by the city Police Commission for the handling of “Suspicious Activity Reports.” Though the new guidelines don’t go as far as the American Civil Liberties Union would like, they make it less likely that police will record the identities of persons whose conduct is neither criminal nor reasonably suggestive of possible terrorist connections. That’s an important step forward.

 

So-called SARs are controversial because they are not limited to criminal activity; they can also be filed if a person behaves in a manner that, while legal, may be suspicious — such as abandoning luggage in a railway station or taking photographs of a power plant.

 

The new policy reaffirms that racial profiling has no place in documenting suspicious activity, provides for regular audits of the SARs program and proposes a community advisory board to help ensure against abuse. The policy advises officers against reporting activity generally protected by the 1st Amendment “unless additional facts and circumstances can be clearly articulated that support an officer’s or agency’s determination that the behavior observed is reasonably indicative of criminal activity associated with terrorism or other criminal activity.”

House Democrats: NYPD should purge spy files, end monitoring of mosques, cafe conversations

WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Thursday urged the New York Police Department to purge its intelligence databases of information gleaned from its clandestine spying on Muslim neighborhoods.

They also criticized the Obama administration for offering tepid responses to questions about whether it endorses such tactics.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress and one of the lawmakers who introduced the resolution, said he understood the political difficulties the White House faces in wading into a debate over racial profiling and national security.

“But transformational leadership is about standing up and doing the right thing,” he said.

Dozens of lawmakers have been asking the Justice Department for eight months to investigate the NYPD’s tactics and determine whether they are legal. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the top civil rights official at the department, has not answered questions about the matter. His spokeswoman has said attorneys are reviewing the requests to investigate.

Lawmakers introduced a resolution Thursday calling for an end to NYPD programs that infiltrated mosques and monitored even innocent conversations in cafes and bookstores. Muslim business owners were included in police files, even with no allegations of wrongdoing.

New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin appeared on Fox & Friends on Monday where he blasted Congressional Democrats for “voting to defund the New York police department” due to what he describes as a persistent narrative that the NYPD has been targeting and profiling Muslim citizens without probable cause. He says that this move by Democrats in the House runs counter to the narrative that President Barack Obama is building up ahead of the November election, which is that Democrats are tough on terrorism at home and abroad.

FBI documents reveal profiling of N. California Muslims

SAN FRANCISCO–Reports obtained by the ACLU show agents gathered intelligence under the guise of outreach programs and shared it with other agencies. A legal expert calls the practice ‘outrageous.’

Federal agents routinely profiled Muslims in Northern California for at least four years, using community outreach efforts as a guise for compiling intelligence on local mosques, according to documents released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

From 2004 to 2008, agents from the San Francisco office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation regularly attended meetings and services, particularly in the Silicon Valley area, “collected and illegally stored intelligence about American Muslims’ First Amendment-protected beliefs and religious practices … and … disseminated it to other government agencies,” the ACLU said in a written statement.

The ACLU of Northern California, the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2010 and a lawsuit in 2011 after the groups received repeated complaints from the Muslim community about intrusive FBI activity, ACLU attorney Julia Harumi Mass said.

Many of the FBI documents released Tuesday by the ACLU are titled “Mosques Liaison Contacts.” In their original form, they contained names and phone numbers of Muslim Americans affiliated with centers of worship from San Francisco to Seaside, Calif. Those names have been redacted.

New Report Accuses French Police of Discrimination

News Agencies – January 26, 2012

Human Rights Watch says police in France are singling out ethnic Arab and African youths for unwarranted and sometimes humiliating identity checks. The rights group says this apparent ethnic profiling is further exacerbating an already tense relationship between authorities and minority youths.

In a new report, the rights group says ethnic Africans and Arabs – some as young as 13 years old – are often targeted in police checks, even though they do not appear to be doing anything wrong. Another study, in 2009, found that French police were far more likely to stop blacks and Arabs than white people.

A Post-9/11 Registration Effort Ends, but Not Its Effects

In the jittery months after the 9/11 attacks, the federal government created a program that required thousands of Arab and Muslim men to register with the authorities, in an effort to uncover terror links and immigration violations.

After complaints that the practice, known as special registration, amounted to racial profiling, the Homeland Security Department scaled back the program in 2003, and ended it late last month, saying it “no longer provides a unique security value.”

But for Mohammed G. Azam, a 26-year-old Bangladeshi native who came to the United States when he was 9, its legacy lives on. When he registered in Manhattan in 2003, officials began deportation proceedings, and now, eight years and numerous hearings later, his case has outlasted the program.

Mr. Azam is one of hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of people still caught in the program’s net, immigration experts say.