Posted by Guest on May 08, 2017 in Blog

Screen_Shot_2017-05-08_at_1.25.35_PM.pngBy Baseem Maleki

During an Expert Briefing that was part of AAI’s “Arab American Leadership Days” programming, Adam Bates—a policy analyst with Cato’s Project on Criminal Justice—explained the ways in which the unwarranted surveillance of Arab Americans and American Muslims is ineffective and unconstitutional. Bates argued that programs like the NYPD Demographics Unit, which was designed with the specific intent to surveil Arab Americans and American Muslims, violate the due process clause in both the 5th and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution. The 5th Amendment declares that “no person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” Simply put, neither the government nor any enforcement agency can punish an individual without a burden of proof. The NYPD surveillance program violated the Constitution because it invaded the privacy of U.S. citizens without a warrant. American citizens were targeted for no reason other than being Arab and/or Muslim. According to Bates, “they set up cameras in Arab and Muslim neighborhoods, they infiltrated Arab and Muslim student organizations, [and] they infiltrated civil rights organizations.”  Despite 11 years of invading the privacy of American citizens and residents, the constant surveillance resulted in zero actionable leads. The program was finally abandoned in 2014. Despite its clear waste of resources and constitutional violations, there are still some who advocate for the program to be re-implemented. One such example is Representative Peter King of New York, who has suggested that President Trump introduce a national version of the program.

In addition to institutional surveillance, Bates discussed Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs. He explained that the idea behind CVE programs is to engage Arab American and American Muslim communities in terrorism intervention instead of relying solely on law enforcement programs like the NYPD’s Demographics Unit. By involving our communities, the government is attempting to legitimize these flawed and harmful programs. 

The FBI’s “Don’t Be a Puppet” campaign is one such program. The campaign promotes profiling by encouraging individuals to be on the lookout for people who exhibit supposed signs of radicalization and to report them to law enforcement. This is highly problematic because of the ways in which the FBI classifies warning signs of radicalization. According to the “Don’t Be a Puppet” website, the FBI urges people to report individuals who are “talking about traveling to places that sound suspicious; studying or taking pictures of potential targets (like a government building); using code words or unusual language;” etc.

Bates argues that these are ineffective markers for measuring whether an individual is becoming immersed in extremist ideologies because they are based on “faulty conceptions of how people become radicalized.” These broad and vague qualifiers of extremism cast innocent people and communities under a suspicious light. Bates noted that these programs have become a way for law enforcement to circumvent due process laws by leveraging the innate trust between community and religious leaders and the people who turn to them, asking them to report on conversations and exchanges that are otherwise protected by the 4th amendment.

Programs like the NYPD Demographics Unit and the “Don’t Be a Puppet” campaign are unconstitutional, promote profiling, and have proven to be ineffective. For ways to combat these programs, check out the Arab American Institute’s issue briefs on surveillance and CVE

Watch the panel for yourself by clicking this link


Baseem Maleki is a Spring 2017 Intern at the Arab American Institute. 

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