The City of New York has agreed to settle two federal lawsuits challenging the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) Muslim surveillance program, releasing details of the agreement today in a series of court filings. The settlement proposes a series of meaningful reforms focused on how the NYPD conducts investigations that involve political and religious activity.
“The settlement is a good first step towards curbing the NYPD’s unconstitutional spying on American Muslim communities,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “It makes clear that police should target people based on facts, not religion. By including a civilian appointed by the Mayor in reviewing investigations of political activity, it strengthens oversight as well. The effectiveness of these reforms, however, will only become clear over time and must be closely monitored.”
“The reforms are an important victory for all New Yorkers and a vindication of the principle that national security need not come at the expense of civil liberties or equal protection under the law,” said Michael Price, counsel for the Liberty and National Security Program. “But there is much work left to do, and this agreement is part of an ongoing process that will also include recommendations from the NYPD Inspector General as well as City Council oversight.”
The proposed settlement comes less than three months after a federal appeals court in New Jersey ruled that a third, related lawsuit could move forward against the NYPD, likening the Department’s surveillance of American Muslims to the surveillance of “Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II.”
Under the program, as reported by a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press investigation, the NYPD conducted blanket surveillance of mosques, restaurants, stores, schools, and student associations in New York City and the tri-state area. The surveillance included photographing license plates, community mapping, the use of informants to infiltrate mosques and businesses, and video surveillance of mosques. The NYPD later admitted that surveillance by its now-defunct “Demographics Unit” did not produce a single lead on terrorist activity.
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