NYC lawyer argues that NYPD can spy on peaceful Muslim conversations

Lawyers argue that the police have the right to spy on peaceful conversations between innocent individuals... as long as they're Muslim. Photo: Supporters of a lawsuit challenging the NYPD's Muslim surveillance program, hold signs during a gathering on a plaza in front of New York City Police Department headquarters, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. (AP)

WASHINGTON, October 3, 2013 — Peter Farrell, senior counsel in the New York City Law Department, argued this week in federal court that the NYPD has the right to spy on law abiding Muslims. Farrell argued that the fact that NYPD targeted peaceful individuals was not relevant, telling a federal judge “Whether it promotes violent behavior or doesn’t promote violent behavior relates to the potential for unlawful activity.”

Lawyers were in court this week to discuss a highly criticized program, secretly conducted by the NYPD, to monitor Muslims in universities, restaurants, businesses, or places of worship, even if they are not suspected of having any relationship to criminal activity.

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This litigation is based on a dispute on Handschu restrictions, and is one of several lawsuits filed against the city of New York challenging the controversial practice. Handschu restrictions are limits imposed on the types of surveillance that the NYPD can engage in.

Reporters from the Associated Press won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the secret program. According to reports, officers from the New York Police Department travelled to universities as far as New Jersey to monitor student groups unconnected to any allegations of terrorism.

In other instances, officers repeatedly visited restaurants and businesses in an attempt to spy on customers who appeared to be Muslim.  Following nationwide outrage, a Congressional resolution to condemn the NYPD’s behavior as unconstitutional was introduced.

Jethro Eisenstein, a civil rights attorney for the plaintiffs in the Handschu case, believed that Farrell’s explanation only proved the point of the petitioners. “It means if you breathe in and out and you’re Muslim, than the NYPD can keep records on you.”

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Farrell admitted that NYPD officers recorded or made notes on more than two hundred conversations, over the course of more than four thousand instances where officers were conducting surveillance on Muslims in New York and New Jersey.

In a deposition acquired by Associated Press, Assistant Chief Thomas Galati, of the New York Police Department’s secret Demographics Unit, confessed that in the entire six year run of the secret spying program, not a single piece of evidence was ever gathered that resulted in an investigation being launched. Consequently, the program has failed to deliver any arrests, prosecutions, or convictions of individuals connected to terrorism.

Of particular note are the confessions of Shamiur Rahman, a former confidential informant employed by the NYPD.  “The members of the [Muslim Student Association] were religious Muslims, and according to my NYPD boss Steve, the NYPD considers being a religious Muslim a terrorism indicator,” said Rahman in a February court filing.

Another plaintiff attorney, Paul Chevigny, asserted the NYPD practices violate the law, “because they’re not rooted in the fact that there’s a criminal predicate … They’re rooted in the fact that the subjects are Muslims.”

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The plaintiff attorneys are seeking the review certain “Investigative Statements,” which Farrell asserted formed the basis of various surveillance operations. Ironically, Farrell agreed to allow the attorneys to review some of the records, on the condition that they were not admitted into the public record. Critics believe the secrecy requirement will again hide the controversial activities of the NYPD from the public at large.

Early last year, the top FBI official in New Jersey issued a rebuke of the NYPD practices, asserting that the spying practices had resulted in Muslims being more hesitant to cooperate with law enforcement agencies.

“When people pull back cooperation, it creates additional risks, it creates blind spots,” said Michael Ward, special agent in charge of the FBI Newark office.

“It hinders our ability to have our finger on the pulse of what’s going on around the state, and thus it causes problems and makes the job of the Joint Terrorism Task Force much, much harder.”

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Rahat Husain

Rahat Husain has been working as a columnist since 2013 when he joined the Communities. With an interest in America and Islam, Rahat is a prolific writer on contemporary and international issues.


In addition to writing for the Communities, Rahat Husain is an Attorney based in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. He is the Director of Legal and Policy Affairs at UMAA Advocacy. For the past six years, Mr. Husain has worked with Congressmen, Senators, federal agencies, think tanks, NGOs, policy institutes, and academic experts to advocate on behalf of Shia Muslim issues, both political and humanitarian. UMAA hosts one of the largest gatherings of Shia Ithna Asheri Muslims in North America at its annual convention.


Contact Rahat Husain


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