AALDEF and Muslim Advocates File Lawsuit to Uncover Details of NYPD Spying Program
In an effort to uncover the depth of the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) extensive surveillance of American Muslims, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and Muslim Advocates, with the assistance of pro bono counsel Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, filed an Article 78 administrative proceeding to request public information on the NYPD’s surveillance program.
The lawsuit comes after the NYPD refused to produce relevant documents in response to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request filed in September 2011 by AALDEF, Muslim Advocates, and the Brennan Center seeking records documenting the NYPD’s infiltration and surveillance of the American Muslim community.
The Associated Press revealed through a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative articles that the NYPD embarked on a covert, domestic surveillance program that targeted American Muslims throughout the Northeast, including spying on neighborhood cafes and prayers and infiltrating student whitewater-rafting trips. Reports of the surveillance spread outrage throughout the nation and drew criticism and action from elected officials.
“The public has a right to know the extent of the NYPD’s alleged infringement on the civil rights of American Muslims,” said Nermeen Arastu, AALDEF staff attorney. “Nonetheless, the NYPD has consistently denied our legitimate requests that they produce this information and continues to leave the public in the dark about their potentially illegal surveillance methods.”
The NYPD admitted in sworn testimony unsealed last month that, in over six years of spying on mosques, restaurants, schools, and student groups, its secret Demographics unit had not generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation. Despite the fact that no criminal charges have been filed on account of the surveillance, among the reasons the NYPD gives for refusing to cooperate with the FOIL request is that doing so would interfere with ongoing criminal investigations.
“The NYPD’s practice of spying on innocent Americans based upon religion has been documented in the several Department reports previously released, but we believe those reports are just the tip of the iceberg of their activities,” said Glenn Katon, legal director of Muslim Advocates. “We are hopeful that this filing will enable us to learn more details about the NYPD’s unlawful spying in New York, New Jersey, and beyond.”
The New York State Supreme Court lawsuit filed by AALDEF and Muslim Advocates, with the assistance of Weil, includes requests for records relating to:
Mapping of American Muslim and South Asian communities
Use and recruitment of informants (and sharing of informant information with the CIA)
NYPD’s solicitation of information where it did not reveal its true purpose or affiliation
Surveillance of American Muslim and South Asian communities outside of New York
“This case brings to light fundamental civil rights issues,” said Samaa Haridi, partner at Weil. “We appreciate the goals of AALDEF and Muslim Advocates to protect civil rights of the American Muslim community.”