NYPD Ends Mass Surveillance of Muslims

"They can't call it profiling if we spy on everybody!"J.D. Abolins / photo on flickrThe New York Police Department (NYPD) is finally ending its surveillance program snooping on Muslim communities (both inside New York City and in New Jersey). Their tactics of eavesdropping on conversations and building contacts and keeping information about what Muslim citizens were doing drew controversy and lawsuits but failed to generate a single lead to prevent any sort of terrorist activity. The New York Times reports that William J. Bratton, the new police commissioner, has already shut the unit down and reassigned the detectives involved:

The decision by the nation's largest police force to shutter the controversial surveillance program represents the first sign that William J. Bratton, the department's new commissioner, is backing away from some of the post-9/11 intelligence-gathering practices of his predecessor. The Police Department's tactics, which are the subject of two federal lawsuits, drew criticism from civil rights groups and a senior official with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who said they harmed national security by sowing mistrust for law enforcement in Muslim communities.

To many Muslims, the squad, known as the Demographics Unit, was a sign that the police viewed their every action with suspicion. The police mapped communities inside and outside the city, logging where customers in traditional Islamic clothes ate meals and documenting their lunch-counter conversations.

"The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community," said Linda Sarsour, of the Arab American Association of New York. "Those documents, they showed where we live. That's the cafe where I eat. That's where I pray. That's where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community."

And, to repeat, uncovered absolutely no terrorist plots whatsoever. The Associated Press exposed the program in 2011 and the coverage was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Journalists Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman wrote a book about the surveillance.

Let's be clear, though: Just because they're going to stop the most intrusive components of engaging in surveillance of student groups and entire mosques, that doesn't really, truly mean the end of ethnic profiling entirely. The New York Times notes:

[T]he Police Department appears to be moving its policies closer to those of the FBI. Both agencies are allowed to use census data, public information and government data to create detailed maps of ethnic communities.

The FBI. is prohibited, however, from eavesdropping on and documenting innocuous conversations that would be protected by the First Amendment. F.B.I. lawyers in New York determined years ago that agents could not receive documents from the Demographics Unit without violating federal rules.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Ivan Pike||

    And, to repeat, uncovered absolutely no terrorist plots whatsoever.

    Irrelevant. It was a violation of the 4th, no need to say anything more.

  • Hyperion||

    They had to, so that now they can concentrate on the real potential terrorists, the teahadists and anarcho crazy libertarians.

  • William of Purple||

    Briscoe and Curtis are on the case.

  • Virginian||

    I'd be willing to bet a decent amount of money that more people have die to right wing terror on that TV show and its spinoffs then have in real life.

  • ||

    Hadn't the NSA obviated the need for such a program?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Peter King haz a sad.

  • Hyperion||

    I doubt it. The ever expanding surveillance state is well and intact. And for that, Peter King is very happy.

    The Muslims were just an excuse to get the system in place. Now it can be used for it's real purpose. To make sure that the pesky serfs stay in their place and don't interfere with the cronyism of the political elite class.

    Yeah, I know we're talking about a police department, and not the fed gov, but it's the same thing on a smaller scale.

  • Tim||

    Why waste time spying on Muslims when you can spy on everybody?

  • Hyperion||

    Exactly

  • ||

    The best part is how the NYPD thought (and still thinks) that it has jurisdiction outside of NYC, like in Jersey or Virginia. Their arrogance is boundless.

  • Tim||

    "Boundless" Well crafted.

  • Hyperion||

    What?, you don't look forward to the glorious day when police have no boundaries, and can just roam the country freely, shooting dogs and tasing everyone's granny?

  • sarcasmic||

    Whenever I buy booze in NH, I make sure to go to the Seabrook store on Rt1, because the ME state troopers are known to stake out the stores on the highway.

  • Zeb||

    Is there a limit on what you can bring back, or are they trying to see if you are drunk.

    I heard something a few years ago about Mass. state police staking out tire stores and stuff along the seacoast and trying to collect sales taxes on things people bought in NH.

  • sarcasmic||

    Is there a limit on what you can bring back

    Yes there most definitely is. The price difference is all tax. They don't like it when people avoid paying taxes.

  • Zeb||

    No, I suppose not.

    Too bad that interstate commerce thingy gets used for everything except for what it was supposed to be used for.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    I'm sure those responsible for infringing on the rights of the people and the Constitution have been brought to justice and provisions further limiting government power, were put in place to ensure this never happens again.

  • Robert||

    I have trouble seeing this as a rights violation. Do you have a confidentiality agreement with everyone you talk to about anything?

  • Hyperion||

    I'm sure those responsible for infringing on the rights of the people and the Constitution have been brought to justice

    So everyone in congress is in prison right now?

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    If only.

  • Rich||

    The police mapped communities inside and outside the city, logging where customers in traditional Islamic clothes ate meals and documenting their lunch-counter conversations.

    "Two women wearing hijabs cackled, I suppose in Arabic, for twenty-five minutes."

  • Bramblyspam||

    "Ending mass surveillance" indeed. At most, that translates to scaling back the program slightly and renaming it so that the old name is gone.

    I'd like to draw an analogy between closing down Guantanamo Bay and continuing the same old crap at Bagram air force base, but Gitmo is still open.

  • ||

    the Demographics Unit

    How did they get that name?

  • Zeb||

    "Racial profiling unit" was a bit too on the nose.

  • Paul.||

    But the NYPD will continue its surveillance against all citizens of New York via SnF.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    How did they get that name?

    GOON SQUAD was taken.

  • ||

    Miracle Max: Go away or I'll call the Brute Squad.
    Fezzik: I'm on the Brute Squad.
    Miracle Max: You are the Brute Squad!

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement