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Spying for Security or Spying because of Habit?

Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman recently wrote an AP article stating that continued spying on mosques in New York City has not proven to hinder any threats to national security. According to Apuzzo and Goldman, the New York Police Department has continued to spy on mosques throughout New York City and has even labeled entire mosques as Terrorism Enterprise Investigations (TEIs). This classification deems each member of the mosque or even those who just pray there, as a “potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.”

Even with all of this surveillance, none of these mosques have been formally charged with operating as a terrorism enterprise. In 2003, New York re-wrote the Handschu Rules. The former rules stated that police could only spy when they had evidence about a “specific threat.” The new rules allow officers to exchange information more freely, and officers no longer have to file reports with the Handschu Authority, which is made up of two officers and one civilian. Similar spying methods have been disputed around the country. In Muslim Community Association v. Ashcroft, six non-profit Community organizations, including Muslim organizations, brought suit against government officials, such as John Ashcroft, the United States Attorney General, and the FBI. Applying the NYPD surveillance to certain claims of the case could prove the NYPD’s investigation is unconstitutional under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Application would also prove that this extreme surveillance is not warranted for matters of national security.

In Muslim Community Association v. Ashcroft, the plaintiff’s complaint had five specific allegations about Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Three out of the five arguments were Fourth Amendment violations, specifically: “[A]uthorizing the FBI to execute searches without criminal or foreign intelligence probable cause;” and “[A]uthorizing the FBI to execute searches without providing targeted individuals with notice or an opportunity to be heard.” Another allegation was based on the First Amendment, which authorized: “[T]he FBI to investigate individuals based on their exercise of First Amendment rights, including the rights of free expression, free association, and free exercise of religion.” 

The government has not filed a response to the action filed by the six plaintiffs and tried to get the claim dismissed based on lack of standing on plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims. The defendant’s argued that the plaintiff’s lacked evidence to constitutionality challenge Section 215 based on the plaintiff’s First Amendment claims. 

The court denied the defendant’s claim. According to the court, the plaintiff’s successfully showed their members were scared of attending services. The plaintiffs were successfully able to demonstrate that Section 215 was threatening their member’s constitutional rights. 

According to reports provided to Apuzzo and Goldman, the NYPD infiltrated mosques, without probable cause and without letting worshippers know they might be watched. This action aligns with the first two claims of Muslim Community. Additionally, the worshippers First Amendment rights were violated simply because the NYPD watched mosques because of their religious practices. The NYPD went as far as trailing a young Muslim leader for a number of years, simply because he was popular among young Muslims at the mosque.

While the NYPD remains cautious of mosques for terrorist activity, the NYPD has not yet proven that continued spying and infiltration of mosques actually correlates with terrorism. As a result, no basis exists to continue this type of surveillance under the guise of national security.


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