swiveled

a constitutional and human rights blog

Category Archives: Uncategorized

The N.Y.P.D.’s Surveillance of Muslims

Recently the Associated Press revealed that a New York Police Department unit spent six years spying on Muslims at mosques, college campuses, Muslim-owned businesses and even outside of its jurisdiction in “New Jersey…and beyond.” The N.Y.P.D.’s “Demographics Unit” targeted Muslims for surveillance based on their religious affiliation, ethnicity, and language rather than credible threats of terrorism or lawbreaking activities.

Many believe that this type of surveillance violates the civil rights of Muslims and is an example of the N.Y.P.D.’s “abuse [of] power.” One would hope that such heavy-handed and unconstitutional surveillance would at least generate leads to terrorism cases; however, this is not the case. According to the Associated Press, a deposition unsealed last Monday reports that the N.Y.P.D.’s sweeping surveillance of Muslims never led to a terrorism investigation.

The N.Y.P.D. seems to equate the words Muslim and terrorist, when perhaps it should be asking why there are so few Muslim terrorists. According to Charles Kurzman in the book The Missing Martyrs:

global Islamist terrorists have succeeded in recruiting fewer than 1 in 15,000 Muslims over the past 25 years, and fewer than 1 in 100,000 since 2001.

Aerial surveillance

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Increasingly, US law enforcement agencies are borrowing military technology and taking to the air in order to monitor US citizens on American soil.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Sheriff’s Department in Lancaster, California this week will deploy a “new aerial surveillance system…similar to drones used by the military to survey war zones” in order to catch law-breakers on the ground. The technology being tested consists of a “radar system…attached to a piloted single-engine Cessna.”

The Washington Post notes that the US Border Patrol is testing the ability of balloons with mounted cameras to scan areas of Texas near the US/Mexico border. The balloons are on loan from the Defense Department and are used in Iraq and Afghanistan to guard military bases.

While these new methods of surveillance may help police apprehend criminals, some question whether the methods are constitutional. The Los Angeles Times quotes ACLU attorney Peter Bibring:

People who have done nothing wrong shouldn’t have anything they do in their yards or homes subject to video surveillance from the sky.

To the extent that it involves observing things which a typical pilot overhead might not be able to see, it raises serious constitutional questions.