Yesterday 22 Members of Congress sent a letter to the Inspector General of the Department of Justice urging him to launch an investigation into the Federal Bureau of Investigation's improper recording and dissemination of information about the First Amendment-protected activities of American Muslims. Several of the members who joined the letter-including Representatives Pete Stark (D-CA-13), Anna Eshoo (D-CA-14), Sam Farr (D- CA-17), Mike Honda (D- CA-15), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-16), and Barbara Lee (D-CA-09) -represent districts in Northern California in which FBI memoranda document the use of community outreach for intelligence purposes.
The joint letter rightly highlights the negative impacts of the FBI’s misuse of community and mosque outreach to gather intelligence about Americans. The letter states:
Any FBI practice of taking information collected during community outreach efforts for the purpose of utilizing it as intelligence threatens to erode crucial trust between federal law enforcement and American communities. It is also contrary to basic constitutional principles of free speech and freedom of religion.
In April, the ACLU sent its own letter to the Inspector General following the release of FBI documents obtained through FOIA litigation, which demonstrate that from at least 2004 through 2010, the San Francisco and Sacramento FBI field offices documented and disseminated records on American Muslims' exercise of their First Amendment rights. Recorded activities include: the content of a religious sermon; the content of identified speakers' speeches at community events; and individuals' religious affiliations and associations. The FBI's retention of such information in its intelligence files-almost all of the documents were classified as secret or marked as positive intelligence, and were labeled for distribution outside of the FBI-violates federal Privacy Act prohibitions against the maintenance of records about individuals' First Amendment-protected activity.
For more information or to access the underlying documents read the ACLU alerts on FBI improper targeting of American Muslim Communities.