Statement on Lawsuit vs. NYPD on Illegal Surveillance of Muslim Americans

February 4, 2013

Civil rights lawyers today filed a motion asking a federal court to end the NYPD’s illegal surveillance of American Muslims and establish an independent monitor to review the Department’s counterterrorism efforts. Faiza Patel, Co-Director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, is available for interview.

The motion revives a class-action suit that 16 political groups brought against New York City in 1971 after they were illegally spied on by the NYPD. The suit was settled through a consent decree, which prescribes a set of guidelines regulating the Department’s collection of information about political activity. The guidelines, commonly known as the Handschu guidelines, were modified after September 11 to give the NYPD greater freedom in its counterterrorism operations, but still contain important limits on the Department’s ability to investigate political activity and keep tabs on individuals.

“The Police Commissioner has defended the NYPD’s covert operations in American Muslim neighborhoods on the basis that they complied with the Handschu guidelines,” said Faiza Patel, Co-Director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “Today’s filing shows that in fact the NYPD has systematically violated the Guidelines. This pattern of violations was facilitated by a chronic lack of oversight, which the City Council should remedy by establishing an independent monitor that ensures the Department’s policies and actions are lawful, effective, and consistent with the civil liberties of all Americans.”

Declarations by civil rights advocates, members of the Muslim community, and an ex-NYPD informant were filed with today’s motion. The declarations describe how undercover officers and informants infiltrated mosques, schools, restaurants, and grocery stores to spy on Muslims, and the fear and distrust that such invasive surveillance has sparked among the community. Testimony by the Department’s intelligence chief Thomas Galati also reveals that a key part of the extensive spying program has proved woefully ineffective — such operations have not yielded any leads or triggered a single terrorism investigation. This is not surprising, given that the operations are based on religious stereotypes rather than evidence of unlawful or terrorist activity.

For more information, or to set up an interview with Faiza Patel, please contact Erik Opsal at erik.opsal@nyu.edu or 646-292-8356.