ACLU and Other Organizations Demand Records on FBI Collection of Racial and Ethnic Data

July 27, 2010 12:00 am

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Claimed FBI power to track and map “behaviors” and “lifestyle characteristics” of American communities in Massachusetts and nationwide raises alarm.


BOSTON — The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights and community groups today demanded that local FBI officials reveal the extent to which they are using newly revealed powers that they claim to collect and store information on the ordinary and everyday behaviors of innocent Massachusetts residents, including mapping of people’s lifestyles, religious practices, cultural traditions, and even eating habits.

New guidelines, distributed to local FBI offices in 2008 but made public this year, give local agents the authority to secretly map so-called “ethnic-oriented” businesses, behaviors, lifestyle characteristics, and cultural traditions, according to a recently released FBI operations guide. In one reported instance of the FBI using a similar authority, FBI agents in California collected data on falafel sales in a failed effort to pinpoint Iranian terrorists.

“FBI surveillance and mapping based on people’s religion, cultural practices, race or ethnic backgrounds raise profound civil liberties concerns,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Targeting ordinary people based on their race and religion raises the risk of the worst sort of guilt by association. Rather than keep us safe, this kind of profiling undermines public safety by creating rifts between communities and the officials whose job it is to protect and serve all residents of the Commonwealth.”

In 29 states plus the District of Columbia, the American Civil Liberties Union today filed “Freedom of Information Act” (FOIA) requests with local FBI offices, seeking records related to the agency’s collection and use of data on race and ethnicity in local communities. In Massachusetts, the ACLU request was joined by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; Public Research Associates; the Muslim American Society of Boston chapter (MAS Boston); the New England Muslim Bar Association; the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Massachusetts Chapter; and JALSA, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action.

Muslim-American and Arab-American communities expressed particular concern that they will be targeted because of the number of mosques and cultural centers each community has.

“We share concerns over the FBI’s use of information on race and ethnicity in conducting investigations, because of its potential for use as a pretext for racial profiling,” said Hinna Mushtaque, vice president of the New England Muslim Bar Association.

The FBI’s claimed power to collect, use, and map racial and ethnic data is described in the 2008 FBI Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG). The FBI released the new guidelines in heavily redacted form in September 2009, but a less-censored version was made public only this year, in response to a lawsuit filed by Muslim Advocates. Although the new FBI guidelines have been in effect for more than a year and a half, very little information is available to the public about how the FBI has used this newfound authority.

“The public deserves to know about a race-based law enforcement program with such troubling implications for civil rights and civil liberties,” said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “We hope that the coordinated efforts of ACLU affiliates across the nation will finally bring this important information to light so that the American people can know the extent of the FBI’s racial data gathering and mapping practices and whether the agency is abusing its authority.”

In addition to Massachusetts, ACLU affiliates filed FOIA requests in Alabama, Arkansas, California (Northern, Southern and San Diego), Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.

The Freedom of Information Act request for Massachusetts can be found here:

For more information about the ACLU of Massachusetts, go to:

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