Muslims in NYC are outraged over constant surveillance of their community by the NYPD, FBI, and even the CIA. So why don’t they leave and go someplace where Muslims are wanted? Like Pakistan.
THE GRIO From an office on the Brooklyn waterfront in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, New York Police Department officials and a veteran CIA officer built an intelligence-gathering program with an ambitious goal: to map the region’s ethnic communities and dispatch teams of undercover officers to keep tabs on where Muslims shopped, ate and pray. The program was known as the Demographics Unit and, though the NYPD denies its existence, the squad maintained a long list of “ancestries of interest” and received daily reports on life in Muslim neighborhoods, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
OFFICER Associated Press investigation into a massive New York Police Department surveillance program targeting Muslims revealed that the NYPD built databases of everyday life in Muslim neighborhoods, cataloguing where people bought their groceries, ate dinner and prayed. Plainclothes officers known as “rakers” were dispatched into ethnic communities, where they eavesdropped on conversations and wrote daily reports on what they heard, often without any allegation of criminal wrongdoing.
*The USA PATRIOT Act, passed after the 9/11 attacks (and repassed by Congress recently), reduced legal limits on wiretaps imposed by the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The same law also amended the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978 to allow banks to release records to intelligence agencies investigating terrorism.
*A 2007 law changed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, originally a reaction to former President Richard Nixon’s spying on political groups, to allow wiretaps of international phone calls.
*In 2002 the Supreme Court decision ruled that students cannot sue universities under the 1974 Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act. That could make it harder for Muslim student groups to seek redress over infiltration by NYPD undercover officers.
Lawsuits filed by surveillance targets themselves are notoriously hard to win, said Paul Chevigny, a law professor at New York University and expert on police abuse cases.
“The fact that you feel spooked and chilled by it doesn’t constitute an injury,” Chevigny said. Even in cases where surveillance notes leak out, the chances of winning a lawsuit are “marginal” unless the leaking was done with the clear intent of harming someone, he said.
Over the last 40 years, there has been only one class-action lawsuit that has forced serious changes to an NYPD surveillance program, lawyers say, and those changes have been eroded since the 9/11 attacks.
Activists say they have not ruled out going to court over the latest NYPD program. But at a “strategy meeting” held in Manhattan on Wednesday, the discussion centered on preparing for a Nov. 18 protest march and on organizing “know your rights” seminars at mosques and community centers.
Organizers believe they need to build a mass movement against the surveillance program first, so that people like Ahmad will feel more confident about coming forward and filing lawsuits, said Cyrus McGoldrick, civil rights manager for the (Terrorist Front Group CAIR) Council on American-Islamic Relations..
“That way if there’s a court date, it’s not just 10 people sitting there, it’s 1,000 people outside the courthouse, every day,” he said. “People need to feel there is a movement protecting them before they take on the police. Apathy is not our problem — fear is our problem.”
As the 9/11 attacks recede into the past, state and federal rules may eventually swing toward privacy rights again, said Judith Berkan, a member of the advisory board of the National Police Accountability Project, a group of civil rights lawyers.
But until then, surveillance targets would likely face a difficult court battle, she said.