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Lawyers Take NYPD to Court

Civil rights lawyers filed suit to see whether the NYPD violated a decades-old settlement forbidding political spying.

October 5, 2011

Lawyers in the 1970s era political spying case Handschu filed a motion in federal district court yesterday, seeking information on whether the New York City Police Department had violated the terms under which that case had been settled. The motion was prompted by Associated Press revelations that the NYPD had monitored the daily lives of New York’s 800,000 strong Muslim community, including where they prayed and ate and even where they had their hair cut.   

The terms of the Handschu settlement were significantly modified at the instigation of the NYPD after 9/11. While controls on law enforcement spying on political activities were diluted, the current rules nonetheless ban the police from collecting and retaining information about innocent people that is not related to criminal or terrorist activity. The articles published by the AP suggest the NYPD was accumulating precisely these types of dossiers on Muslim New Yorkers. 

While the NYPD has denied these allegations, the AP has released documents showing that many of the programs disavowed by the police did in fact exist. Earlier this month, the Brennan Center for Justice, along with Muslim Advocates and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the NYPD seeking a range of records relating to these allegations.