The New York Civil Liberties Union and partnering civil rights attorneys today filed papers in federal court seeking information on the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims in New York City to determine whether the spying operation violates an existing court order. The filing is part of the Handschu v. Special Services Division proceedings, a decades-old federal case that has produced a series of court orders regulating NYPD surveillance of political and religious activity.

The filing asks the court to initiate a discovery process pertaining to the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims to determine whether those efforts have violated a 1985 consent decree in the Handschu case that restricts the Police Department’s ability to conduct surveillance targeting political and religious activity. The filing also asks the court to order the NYPD to preserve any records relating to its surveillance of Muslims while the discovery process takes place.

“The NYPD’s reported surveillance of local Muslim communities raises serious questions concerning whether the Police Department has violated court-ordered restrictions on its ability to spy on and keep dossiers on individuals,” said NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg. “In order to know whether the NYPD is violating the court order, we need a more complete explanation of the NYPD’s surveillance practices.”

According to recent press reports, the NYPD, in partnership with the Central Intelligence Agency, has used undercover officers and confidential informants to gather information about the political and religious activities of Muslims in New York City under circumstances where there is no indication of criminal activity.

The Handschu case, a class-action lawsuit filed in 1971, has successfully challenged various NYPD surveillance and investigative practices directed at political activity. The case was settled with a consent decree entered in 1985, in which the NYPD was prohibited from investigating political and religious organizations and groups unless there was "specific information" that the group was linked to a crime that had been committed or was about to be committed. The case, which grew out of earlier NYPD efforts to monitor political groups, continues to bear upon surveillance activities conducted by police.