NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Jersey today sued the FBI and Department of Justice for records related to the FBI’s use of race and ethnicity in conducting assessments and investigations of local communities in New Jersey.
According to an FBI operations guide, FBI agents have the authority to collect information about, and create maps of, so-called racial and ethnic behaviors, lifestyle characteristics and cultural traditions and “ethnic-oriented” businesses in communities with concentrated ethnic populations, which has drawn the attention of the ACLU.
“While the collection of some racial and ethnic data about communities might assist in addressing discrimination, the FBI’s claimed authority to target and map certain racial and ethnic communities for increased scrutiny and investigation invites unconstitutional racial profiling,” said Nusrat Choudhury, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, in a release. “In America, we don’t target neighborhoods for law enforcement purposes based on the ethnic makeup of the people who live there or the types of businesses they run.”
The FBI’s power to collect, use and map racial and ethnic data in order to assist the FBI’s “domain awareness” and “intelligence analysis” activities is described in the 2008 FBI Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG). The FBI released the Guide in heavily redacted form in September 2009, but a less-censored version was not made public until January 2010, the ACLU stated. Although the Guide has been in effect for more than two years, very little information is available to the public about how the FBI has implemented this authority.
Last summer, ACLU affiliate offices across the nation filed coordinated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to uncover records about the FBI’s collection and use of racial and ethnicity data from their local FBI field offices. Today’s lawsuit in New Jersey challenges the FBI’s withholding of documents in that state.
“Given New Jersey’s long and well-documented history of racial profiling, our citizens are properly skeptical of efforts by law enforcement to use race or ethnicity in targeting communities for special data collection,” said Alexander Shalom, ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel. “New Jersey residents have a right to know how federal law enforcement officials plan to use the data they collect.”
A spokesman for the FBI could not be immediately reached for comment.
The ACLU’s complaint is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/national-security/aclu-new-jersey-v-fbi-complaint