The Associated Press’ investigation exposing the New York Police Department’s fruitless but intrusive surveillance of the Muslim communities in New Jersey garnered Pulitzer Prizes for four of its journalists and inspired a lawsuit against the city.
Unfortunately US District Court Judge William J. Martini tossed out the lawsuit this week for lack of standing. He ruled (pdf) that the plaintiffs, eight Muslims, couldn’t prove any harm by having the New York’s finest constantly treating them as suspects, and even if they could, the fault is on the Associated Press for exposing the surveillance:
"None of the Plaintiffs’ injuries arose until after the Associated Press released unredacted, confidential NYPD documents and articles expressing its own interpretation of those documents. Nowhere in the Complaint do Plaintiffs allege that they suffered harm prior to the unauthorized release of the documents by the Associated Press. This confirms that Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries flow from the Associated Press’s unauthorized disclosure of the documents. The harms are not “fairly traceable” to any act of surveillance."
This is a rather remarkable argument. If the plaintiffs’ reputations are harmed by being targeted for government surveillance, the harms are not traceable to the surveillance itself but to the exposure of the surveillance? That makes no sense. If the surveillance was not potentially harmful, then its exposure would not be relevant.
The judge also concludes that religion was not a contributing factor in the fact that the NYPD was spying on all the Muslims they could come across but rather the fact that the potential terrorists were Muslims and would be found within the Muslim community:
“The more likely explanation for the surveillance was a desire to locate budding terrorist conspiracies. The most obvious reason for so concluding is that surveillance of the Muslim community began just after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself.”
But they found nothing. They didn’t have any actual targets. These were fishing expeditions. They were snooping on grade schools, for heaven’s sake.
Lest we forget, here’s a snippet of how this surveillance actually played out, from the Associated Press initial reporting in 2012:
A paid informant for the New York Police Department's intelligence unit was under orders to "bait" Muslims into saying inflammatory things as he lived a double life, snapping pictures inside mosques and collecting the names of innocent people attending study groups on Islam, he told The Associated Press.
Shamiur Rahman, a 19-year-old American of Bangladeshi descent who has now denounced his work as an informant, said police told him to embrace a strategy called "create and capture." He said it involved creating a conversation about jihad or terrorism, then capturing the response to send to the NYPD. For his work, he earned as much as $1,000 a month and goodwill from the police after a string of minor marijuana arrests.
"We need you to pretend to be one of them," Rahman recalled the police telling him. "It's street theater."
Rahman said he now believes his work as an informant against Muslims in New York was "detrimental to the Constitution." After he disclosed to friends details about his work for the police — and after he told the police that he had been contacted by the AP — he stopped receiving text messages from his NYPD handler, "Steve," and his handler's NYPD phone number was disconnected.
The Intercept (that’s Glenn Greenwald’s new jam) has some responses to the ruling here.