The New York City Council must use its oversight authority to investigate the NYPD’s surveillance operations targeting Muslim New Yorkers engaged in no wrongdoing, the New York Civil Liberties Union will argue today in testimony before the council’s Public Safety Committee.

“The NYPD must not target New Yorkers based solely on their religious beliefs and activities,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “It appears the NYPD is spying on innocent Muslim New Yorkers, but who’s watching the NYPD? Unchecked surveillance always goes too far. It’s past time for the City Council to stand up for the rights of all New Yorkers and hold the Police Department accountable for its actions.”

The NYCLU is urging the City Council to investigate NYPD operations targeting Muslims detailed in many recent press reports. The investigation should proceed in a manner that does not disrupt legitimate criminal investigations, but reveals the scope of the NYPD’s spying program. If the investigation confirms the discriminatory spying activity reported in the press or exposes other overly broad and unlawful surveillance practices, then the council should enact restrictions to protect New Yorkers’ constitutional rights and prevent further abuse.

According to reports by the Associated Press, National Public radio and journalist Leonard Levitt, the NYPD, in partnership with the Central Intelligence Agency, has conducted intense surveillance targeting Muslim New Yorkers.

NYPD activities detailed in the reports include:

  • Deploying “mosque crawlers” to monitor hundreds, if not thousands, of prayer services.
  • Dispatching undercover officers to Muslim and Arab neighborhoods in New York City to monitor daily life, including at mosques, bookstores, restaurants and Internet cafes.
  • Monitoring neighborhoods for “angry rhetoric and anti-American comments” and targeting individuals based on their reading habits and Internet search histories.
  • Monitoring Muslim students associations at local colleges and universities.
  • Compiling dossiers on Muslim residents engaged in no wrongdoing.

“Police spying on innocent people in their neighborhood cafes, bookstores and mosques doesn’t make us any safer, and it violates core constitutional principles,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Udi Ofer. “Religious and ethnic profiling was unconstitutional before 9/11 and it remains unconstitutional today.”