Waiting for Mom Outside a Bathroom Shouldn't Land You in a Terrorism Database, Lawsuit Argues


We didn't poll millennials about this behavior, but I bet they're opposed.
Credit: wallyg / photo on flickr

One man attempted to take a photo of a storage tank painted in rainbow colors. One man attempted to purchase several computers at once. One man had a flight simulator game operating on his home computer. And one man was standing around, waiting for his mother outside the bathrooms of a train station.

All of this behavior drew the attention of the police and landed the men in databases for engaging in what authorities decided was suspicious behavior that could potentially indicate terrorist leanings. They are men who have had what are called suspicious activity reports (SARs) made up about them and stored in antiterrorism databases. And now they're suing, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus. Wired makes note of the lawsuit, filed today in northern California:

[D]ue to the standards the government uses for determining suspicious activity that might be related to terrorism, all of the plaintiffs found themselves written up in reports stored in counterterrorism databases and were subjected to unwelcome and unwarranted law enforcement scrutiny and interrogation, according to the lawsuit.

"This domestic surveillance program wrongly targets First Amendment-protected activities, encourages racial and religious profiling, and violates federal law," said Linda Lye, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. "The Justice Department's own rules say that there should be reasonable suspicion before creating a record on someone, but the government's instructions to local police are that they should write up SARs even if there's no valid reason to suspect a person of doing anything wrong."

The complaint accuses the police of profiling on the basis of the backgrounds of the affected men and violating their civil liberties. The guy with the flight simulation game on his computer? He was a convert to Islam in Chicago. A police officer deemed him suspicious on the basis of his reluctance to interact with police (in Chicago? How could that be?), and on a later occasion, the officer searched the man's residence briefly looking for a suspect in a completely unrelated domestic violence case. The officer noted he appeared to be accessing a flight simulator game. That was pretty much all. And so the officer made up a record of his behavior.

In the train station case, a security officer in California deemed a man of Middle Eastern descent suspicious on the basis of him "meticulously" observing his surroundings of the Santa Ana station, then hanging outside the bathrooms until a woman (wearing a burqa) exited the restroom and joined him. That woman was his mother.

Read more about the cases at Wired or read the lawsuit yourself here. Reason TV's Paul Detrick recently won a SoCal Journalism Award for his own investigation of how similar behavior by authorities in Los Angeles resulted in the harassment of a photographer taking pictures of the L.A. subway system. Watch below:

NEXT: Police Trolling Personal Ads to Trick People Into Sex Crimes

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  1. Well, now Scott is on Emily’s shit list.

  2. Best. Alt text. Ever.

    1. Top-notch. Top. Notch!

    2. I’m not so sure, what do the polls say?

      1. Millennials are surprisingly okay with racially profiling, unless it raises taxes or discriminates against trans people.

    3. Yes, this made me happy. Well done Shackford.

  3. But they can connect the dots!!! See if we just collect enough random observations some IT guy will summon the algorithm unicorn who will examine all of the data and tell us who the terrorists are.

    That ladies and gentleman is the entire SAR program in a nutshell.

    1. Seldon, Hari? . . . found dead, slumped over desk in his office at Streeling University in 12,069 (1 F.E.). Apparently Seldon had been working up to his last moments on psychohistorical equations; his activated Prime Radiant was discovered clutched in hand. According to Seldon’s instructions, the instrument was shipped by his colleague Gaal Dornick who had recently emigrated to Terminus. Seldon’s body was jettisoned into space, also in accordance with instructions he’d left. The official memorial service on Trantor was simple, though attended. It was worth noting that Seldon’s old friend former First Minister Eto Demerzel attended the event. Demerzel had not been seen since his mysterious disappearance immediately following the Joranumite Conspiracy during the reign of Emperor Cleon I. Attempts by the Commission of Public Safety to locate Demerzel in the days following the Seldon memorial proved to be unsuccessful. Wanda Seldon, Hari Seldon’s granddaughter, did not attend the ceremony. It was rumored that she was grief-stricken and had refused all public appearances. To this day, her whereabouts from then on remain unknown. It has been said that Hari Seldon left this life as lived it, for he died with the future he created unfolding all around him.
      ?Encyclopedia Galactica

  4. OT: I’m at Freedom Fest in Las Vegas right now. Currently attending a panel discussion about the Global Economy featuring Steve Forbes and others. Next will go to see John Mackey of Whole Foods speaking on “conscious capitalism”. Last night we saw an advance screening of Atlas Shrugged 3.

    There is a very large presence here, and Saturday is “Reason Day. ”

    If anyone else from the commentary crowd is here at the Fest, reply to this post so I can buy you a drink.

    Wish the rest of you could be here. It’s nice to be around a lot of libertarian people.

    1. Sounds like you’re in heaven, Anacreon.
      Check out the ISIL booth.

    2. This is definitely going on my vacation plans for next year.

    3. It’s nice to be around a lot of libertarian people.

      Just be careful you don’t sustain any serious injuries or they’ll wheel you out to the curb to die with the rest of the freeloaders.

    4. Wish I could be there. Enjoy the hell out of it for the rest of us.

  5. Okay, let me get this straight.

    A LEO saw a muslim with a flight simulator that was reluctant to interact with police. And this was recorded.

    Would LEOs have any reason to view a muslim with a flight simulator with any heightened suspicion? Can you think of anything that might have happened to set them off? Anything?

    If you normally investigate arson, and you see a guy who looks like he’s starting to assemble accelerants, you go over and ask him what he’s doing. And if he acts odd, you make a note of it. Just in case.

    Being a muslim or looking middle eastern should not warrant any additional scrutiny. Being a muslim or looking middle eastern with a flight simulator or acting odd in a transportation center–well, that might be another story. Because of 9/11 and 7/7.

    Profiling isn’t always evil

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