Efforts to remedy law enforcement abuses against Muslim-Americans have made headlines in recent days. A federal lawsuit filed early this week in New Jersey seeks to put an end to the New York Police Department’s surveillance program targeting Muslims in the Northeast.
And yesterday, 22 members of Congress sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging an investigation into the FBI “outreach” program in California that turned into a potentially illegal operation in which FBI agents collected and stored data on innocent Muslims. That data was also marked as being available for distribution to other government agencies.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) got the ball rolling on the FBI abuses. The organization released documents in March that exposed the FBI’s practices, which the ACLU says could violate the Privacy Act of 1974.
“I’m very concerned that Muslim Americans in Northern California and elsewhere may have been targeted by the FBI because of their religious practices — possibly in violation of their First Amendment and privacy rights,” Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) said in a press statement.
The Congressional letter, signed by a number of progressive Democrats and Ron Paul (R-TX), echoes the ACLU’s concerns. An excerpt from the letter to the Justice Department’s Inspector General:
We write to express our concern with recently released documentary evidence that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) improperly targeted communities based on their religion, race and national origin of community members. Specifically, the evidence shows that the FBI recorded and disseminated information about community members’ First Amendment-protected activities, including religious practices. We request that you initiate an investigation into these allegations, including into possible Privacy Act violations within the FBI’s San Francisco and Sacramento divisions.
Recently publicized documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suggest that the FBI targeted American Muslims for intelligence gathering under the guise of community or mosque outreach programs from at least 2004 through 2010. Many of the community organizations, mosques, and college campuses identified in the FBI documents are located throughout Northern California, but it is unclear whether similar activities are occurring in other FBI divisions.
This letter follows up on a letter sent to the Inspector General by the ACLU in April. The ACLU likewise called for an investigation into the FBI practices.
For more information on the FBI’s “outreach” program to Muslims, read this Alex Kane post.