Surveillance

Federal Judge Calls for More Citizen Oversight over NYPD's Surveillance Programs

Lawsuit settlement over city's unwarranted snooping of Muslims temporarily rejected.

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Muslim protesters
JUSTIN LANE/EPA/Newscom

A class action settlement pushed forward by both sides in response to the highly publicized New York Police widespread surveillance of Muslim residents has a federal judge demanding more before approving it.

Specifically federal Judge Charles Haight of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York wants to make sure the participation of a non-police citizen in a proposed police-dominated committee that would evaluate the surveillance system would actually mean something.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the New York Police Department began a practice of massive surveillance of Muslim residents of the city (and neighboring New Jersey). While the city very obviously had a need to track down potential terror plots, the NYPD's actual practice resulted in widespread snooping involving the use of informants apparently untied to any actual threats. The city's surveillance program drew lawsuits and failed to uncover any terrorist plots. The oversight committee would be part of the settlement for the suits.

The lawsuits prompted a look at previous guidelines to restrain unwarranted surveillance by the NYPD that were put in place in the '80s. So none of this is a new problem—just new targets. The NYPD has a lengthy history of snooping on various groups (of historical interest, Haight notes in this ruling that the roots of the NYPD's intelligence program are tied to snooping on Italian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century). This previous settlement put in place a system detailing among other things the circumstances by which police can engage in surveillance (suspicion of a crime), processes for approval for surveillance and expiration expectations when snooping fails to unearth relevant information.

The problem, Haight noted, is that a recent audit found that the NYPD wasn't following the rules that are in place right now, even after those rules were loosened a bit after the September 11 attacks. The audit found that while police were following guidelines on seeking the appropriate permissions to engage in surveillance and the use of informants, in about half the cases the use of surveillance tools and informants continued after the initial authorization expired.

So the fact that the NYPD aren't following guidelines right now prompted Haight to want to make sure this citizen in this proposed oversight board isn't just for show. The proposal is for this citizen to be a lawyer with no connections (present or past) to the NYPD appointed by the mayor. Problem: The mayor would also have the authority to eliminate the position after five years. This citizen would also have only limited abilities to blow the whistle on any problems he or she comes across, turning to the police commissioner or reporting to the court if he or she thinks the police are "systematically and repeatedly" violating surveillance guidelines.

That's not enough for Haight. He is suggesting that the citizen representative be allowed to communicate to the court with any concerns that come out of the committee's work, not just evidence of widespread violations. And Haight suggests the citizen representative submit a quarterly report to the court. And rather just letting the mayor eliminate the position by fiat in five years, Haight suggests the mayor have to come to the court to make the case it was no longer needed.

So for now Haight is rejecting the settlement, without prejudice, giving the parties involved the chance to make changes for reconsideration.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (and several other civil liberties group) helped usher in this lawsuit. They reacted to the judge's ruling: "The court's ruling highlights safeguards we sought to secure but the NYPD refused to accept, and we hope it convinces the NYPD to establish additional protections against unwarranted surveillance. This development is an opportunity to put the strongest safeguards in place, and we are eager to discuss the court's suggestions with the NYPD and the city. For the sake of New York Muslims and all New Yorkers, we urge that reforms are implemented as soon as possible."

Read more about the case settlement here and the judge's decision here.

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  1. Maybe if civilian oversight has a positive effect here, they could expand it to, I don’t know, all of the NYPD’s activities.

    1. No, because civilian oversight has a negative effect, the union wants to firewall that from spreading elsewhere. Do you even municipal government?

    2. Civilian oversight has no effect. That’s why cops begrudgingly go along with it.

      1. You know it occurs to me the Democracy is civilian oversight… so I think you’re on to something here.

        1. I thought cops were Civilians.

          1. “Civilians” is newspeak for serfs. The King’s Men, whether in the army or the police, are not serfs.

          2. Yes, this is discussed here often. For philosophical purposes, I agree, but for categorization and legal purposes, you need some sort of moniker to identify people who aren’t cops.

            For instance, if you’re a cop, current OR retired, you have a 50 state conceal carry license for life. If you’re not a cop, you don’t. There are legal differences and distinctions, so since I don’t have and can’t get a 50 state carry license (to mention just one thing), it makes it simpler in conversation to refer to people in my category as something– something other than “dumbass”.

            1. for categorization and legal purposes, you need some sort of moniker to identify people who aren’t cops.

              Only if you are going to give cops special privileges.

              Funny, though, that we don’t refer to the serfs as “citizens” when trying to distinguish them from cops.

  2. The problem, Haight noted, is that a recent audit found that the NYPD wasn’t following the rules

    ::dies of shock::

  3. Honestly, I’d like to think Haight is focused on protecting individual liberty. But, the whole scheme seems more inclined to enhance the power of the court. Why is the civilian responding to the court and not to an actual executive office (DoJ)? By, given the policy under question is discontinued, does the court get to decide whether the civilian oversight is necessary? I’m all for “civilian” oversight. But, I’m not a big fan of unaccountable power.

  4. “But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” …James Madison

    “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” …Adam Smith

    1. Put these two things together and an answer suggests itself – don’t expect some altruistic do-gooder fine upstanding citizen type to drain the swamp. What’s needed is the dirtiest crookedest scumbaggiest cop you can find – and make him a bounty hunter. A very highly-paid bounty hunter. Make him a wolf to the wolves. “You know the way you guys fuck with the citizenry? Sergeant Bruno here’s gonna fuck with you the same way.”

      1. Imagine the first dirty cop Sergeant Bruno catches won’t stop resisting arrest or makes a furtive movement toward his waistband or maybe even just accidentally falls down a few flights of stairs being taken into the station. And then Sergeant Bruno gets paid a large bonus, maybe even gets a medal or a commendation for his courage and bravery for making the bust. Sergeant Bruno is, of course, going to be outfitted with the finest in malfunctioning body cameras and dash cams at all times so you’ll know he’s beyond reproach.

  5. The court’s ruling highlights safeguards we sought to secure but the NYPD refused to accept, and we hope it convinces the NYPD to establish additional protections against unwarranted surveillance.

    Dear ACLU and Judge Haight.
    NYPD isn’t going to “fix” NYPD. NYPD doesn’t run NYC law enforcement, the City Council does. The City Council hires and fires the chief of police. The City Council establishes the policies and procedures for NYPD, and gives them their marching orders.

    There is one thing standing in the City Council’s way, that being the police union. Abolish it.

    If you want to change the way NYPD does business, change the City Council.

    1. we hope it convinces the NYPD to establish additional protections against unwarranted surveillance

      Yeah, I had to laugh at that part. The NYPD already has all the protection it needs from any sort of surveillance, and, oh boy, is surveillance of the NYPD ever warranted. That’s exactly the problem isn’t it? That nobody’s in charge of effectively watching the watchers?

    2. NYPD doesn’t run NYC law enforcement

      Pretty sure they do, actually.

  6. I wonder whether the same judge would support more citizen oversight over the FBI’s surveillance programs? The NSAs?

  7. Want to reduce surveillance of Muslims? Stop importing them.

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  9. One wonders re this New York Civil Liberties Union, along with other unnamed civil rights groups have been hiding re other NYPD violations of residents civil rights, not to forget constitutional rights.

  10. It is important to organize the event like this. federal Judge Charles Haight done a great work. I am sure that people will get aware of the behaviors of citizens. When i visited one of the MBBS colleges in Bangalore i saw like this event. They organized event with complete awareness for people to behavior in the society. This will help them to get close with others.

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