Posted by on August 29, 2013 in Blog

Next week, the Pulitzer Prize-winning AP reporters who broke the story about the NYPD surveillance program will be publishing a book. While much has been written about this insidious program, Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America has still more unsettling surprises. The revelations of authors Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman show how the mindset behind development of the federal PRISM program, collecting data from citizens’ emails and phone conversations. It presents not a frightening possibility, but the shocking reality that law enforcement agencies from the local to the federal level are using technology and boots on the ground to track the movements, conversations, and daily activities of law-abiding citizens —particularly Arab Americans and American Muslims.

Among the latest disclosures:

  • In 2003, at the behest of the former CIA-agent who designed the NYPD surveillance program, a federal judge reversed longstanding regulations limiting police power (the Handschu Guildelines). As a result, the NYPD no longer had to have specific evidence of criminal activity in order to launch an investigation, and undercover officers could be deployed at will, in any venue.  Within 8 months, the NYPD opened 15 secret “terrorism enterprise investigations,” 10 of which targeted mosques.
  • NYPD agents collected data by carrying into the mosques recording devices hidden in wristwatches and key fobs. This practice may still be used by NYPD, since state law allows any party to record a conversation, even without consent of the other participants.
  • The benignly-named “Demographics Unit” began its data collection by looking at 28 “ancestries of interest,” but, when questioned by the press, Police Chief Kelly said that information was not collected based on ethnicity. The “geography” in question appears to be predominantly Middle Eastern, the ancestries primarily Arab. And while it’s clear that the NPYD was focusing its investigative efforts on Muslims, it also seems to have operated on the assumption that all Arabs are Muslim — a falsehood that has come to dominate the public conscience.
  • As recently as 2009, the NYPD was attempting to place agents in leadership positions within secular community organizations, including the Arab American Association of New York, which provides services to new immigrants.

From the ACLU to Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY12) to Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), critics of the NYPD program have assailed its willingness to sidestep the Constitution and trample on American citizens’ civil liberties.  On learning that the NYPD had operated well outside its jurisdiction, infiltrating New Jersey mosques and businesses, Newark Mayor Cory Booker said that the program “strikes against some of my fundamental ideals as an American.”  In response to the latest revelations about the police surveillance program, New York City Comptroller and Mayoral Candidate John Liu announced that his office will conduct an audit of the NYPD’s Domain Awareness System, “to determine if this technology, which allows the police to watch almost every New Yorker’s move, is safeguarded from abuse or misuse by those entrusted to control it.”

Click here to read Apuzzo and Goldman’s August 24, 2013 article in New York Magazine, and then take a moment to watch a video by AP’s David Martin, featuring Linda Sarsour, Director of the Arab American Association of New York.