June 27, 2013 - Amid a growing national debate over security and privacy ignited by the National Security Agency whistle blower Edward Snowden, the New York City Council this morning approved by veto-proof majorities a pair of bills aimed at increasing oversight of the Police Department and expanding New Yorkers' ability to sue over racial profiling by officers.
New York police was accused of religious profiling and suspicion-less surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers in years since 9/11
According to the New York Times, the bills were passed despite the objections of the Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.
"The two bills, known together as the Community Safety Act, passed during a late-night meeting of the Council that began after 11 p.m., lasted more than three hours and in which members also voted to pass the city's budget and override a mayoral veto of a law on paid sick leave," the New York Times reported adding:
"But it was the two policing bills that for months have stirred a heated public debate between its supporters, who are seeking a legal means to change the Police Department's stop-and-frisk program, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, who have warned that the measures would hamstring police officers and lead to a dangerous spike in crime."
The paper also reported: "One, known as Intro 1079, would create an independent inspector general to monitor and review police policy, conduct investigations and recommend changes to the department. The monitor would be part of the city's Investigation Department alongside the inspectors general for other city agencies. The law would go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, leaving the matter of choosing the monitor to the next mayor.
"The other bill, Intro 1080, would expand the definition of bias-based profiling to include age, gender, housing status and sexual orientation. It also would allow individuals to sue the Police Department in state court -- not only for individual instances of bias, but also for policies that disproportionately affect people in any protected categories without serving a significant law enforcement goal."
Civil liberties groups file lawsuit over NYPD surveillance of Muslims
The American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability (CLEAR) project of Main Street Legal Services at CUNY Law School, on June 18, 2013, filed a suit accusing the NYPD of religious profiling and suspicion-less surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers. The suit called for the destruction of all records on individuals created as a result of the department's surveillance and the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee the NYPD's intelligence gathering practices.
The landmark lawsuit charges that the NYPD's Muslim Surveillance Program has imposed an unjustified badge of suspicion and stigma on hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers. It was filed on behalf of religious and community leaders, mosques, and a charitable organization that were all swept up in the NYPD's dragnet surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers. These individuals and organizations seek systemic reforms that will end the NYPD's spying program in which entire communities of New Yorkers have been singled out simply because of their religious beliefs.
"When a police department turns law-abiding people into suspects because they go to a mosque and not a church or a synagogue, it violates our Constitution's guarantees of equality and religious freedom," said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. "No one questions that the NYPD has a job to do, but spying on innocent New Yorkers because of their religion is a wrong and ineffective way to do it. We are asking the court to end the NYPD's unconstitutional religious discrimination."
The NYPD's surveillance of Muslim communities was first revealed in detail in August 2011, in a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative series by the Associated Press. The AP investigation detailed how, in the wake of September 11, NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly endeavored to transform elements of the nation's most powerful police force into a miniature CIA.
According to documents obtained by the AP, the NYPD's intelligence division developed a secret unit tasked with mapping the social, religious and business landscape of the greater New York area. The emphasis on Muslim communities was virtually exclusive and, according to one former police official, modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank.
Four CIA officials were embedded with New York Police
Alarmingly, the New York Times on June 26, 2013, quoted the C.I.A. inspector general's report as saying that four Central Intelligence Agency officers were embedded with the New York Police Department in the decade after Sept. 11, 2001, including one official who helped conduct surveillance operations in the United States.
That officer believed there were "no limitations" on his activities, the report said, because he was on an unpaid leave of absence, and thus exempt from the prohibition against domestic spying by members of the C.I.A.