New York police settle surveillance lawsuit after Muslims said they were illegally targeted following 9/11

The force has vowed not to carry out surveillance operations based on religion or ethnicity

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Friday 06 April 2018 15:23 BST
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Louise Thomas

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America’s largest police force has agreed not to conduct surveillance operations based on religion or ethnicity, as part of a deal to settle claims that it illegally spied on Muslims in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

In an agreement announced in New York, the force agreed to put an end to such operations based solely on these factors and to pay $75,000 in damages and $1m in legal fees. It also agreed to meet with members of the Muslim community to discuss various issues.

“We are proud that we stood up to the most powerful police force in the country and against the suspicion and ignorance that guided their discriminatory practices,” said Farhaj Hassan, the lead plaintiff in the case.

“We believe the legal rulings and settlement in this case will endure as part of a broader effort to hold this country to account for its stated commitment and its obligation to uphold religious liberty and equality.”

The lawsuit followed a series of award-wining article by the Associated Press that revealed how the city’s police department infiltrated Muslim student groups and put informants in mosques as part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks.

James O'Brien's powerful response to a man who said all Muslims were complicit in terrorism

In New Jersey, the department collected intelligence on ordinary people at mosques, restaurants and schools starting in 2002. At a press conference, the plaintiffs pointed out that the programme failed to produce a single lead despite spying on 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, 2 schools and 2 Muslim student associations in New Jersey.

The deal came after a Philadelphia appeals court in 2015 likened the surveillance programme to when Japanese Americans were interned during World War II.

“Today's settlement sends a message to all law enforcement: Simply being Muslim is not a basis for surveillance,” Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a legal advocacy and educational organisation after after Thursday’s agreement.

As part of the settlement, the force will be required to provide input into a new policy guide to control the police department’s Intelligence Bureau. It also requires NYPD counter-terrorism probes in New Jersey to follow the Handschu Guidelines, which resulted from a 1971 lawsuit by the Black Panther Party alleging police engaged in widespread surveillance of legitimate political activity.

It also requires the city to pay $47,500 to businesses and mosques harmed by surveillance and $25,000 to individual plaintiffs. The city also will pay $950,000 in legal fees for plaintiffs, the AP said.

Zachary Carter, the city’s top lawyer, said in a statement: “This settlement demonstrates a continued commitment by the NYPD to safeguard individual constitutional rights while keeping New York the safest city in America.”

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