Posted by on February 08, 2013 in Blog

By Jennine Vari

Spring 2013 Intern

On Monday, a group of civil rights lawyers sought an injunction against further surveillance by the New York Police Department for the undercover investigation and infiltration of Muslim communities without evidence of criminal or terrorist activity.

In 2011, the Associated Press revealed in a series of stories that the NYPD had been monitoring law-abiding Muslims in public places, despite a total lack of evidence of unlawful or terrorist-related activities. The police department had sent undercover officers to monitor conversations, spy on people at stores, restaurants and mosques, infiltrate student groups, and even keep files on those who adopted Americanized surnames.

The lawyers are arguing that the spying program violated the Handschu guidelines, which prohibit detectives and police departments from investigating and creating files on individuals or organizations based on their political, religious, sexual, or economic preferences. The guidelines stupilate that investigations should only be based on “specific information” about a future crime.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly insist that the NYPD was acting within the Handschu guidelines and that the intelligence division had plenty of oversight, including five district attorneys, a committee to investigate police corruption, and an internal affairs department. However, CIA veteran David Cohen, who led the surveillance operation, had a federal judge relax the guidelines to try to ensure that the intelligence division could technically operate within the confines of the law. Supporters of the NYPD also argue that they were simply taking measures to protect the city, even though the surveillance operations never yielded any leads on terrorist activity.

The injunction against the NYPD is seeking to end the investigations of Muslims communities without evidence of unlawful activity, and calls for a new court-appointed auditor to oversee the department’s activities. In a motion filed on Monday, the lawyers wrote, “There is substantial persuasive evidence that the defendants are conducting investigations associated with the Muslim faith and Muslim community in New York, and have been doing so for years, using intrusive methods, without a reasonable indication of unlawful activity, or a criminal predicate of any sort.”

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