ACLU of Illinois Sues Justice Department and Homeland Security Officials Over Failure to Release Racial Profiling Data

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
August 13, 2003 12:00 am

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ACLU of Illinois
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CHICAGO — Calling on the Bush Administration to make a public showing that it is serious about the promise to fight racial profiling, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today asked a federal court to order the release of data that will help the public determine whether federal law enforcement agencies are engaged in racial profiling.

“”If the Bush Administration and the Attorney General are serious about confronting and correcting racial profiling across the nation, a good first step would be to release for public scrutiny all information that gives citizens confidence that their government’s actions are lawful and non-discriminatory,”” said Harvey Grossman, Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois. “”Making the data collected by federal law enforcement officials available to the public is a step toward building a strong bond of trust and confidence between law enforcement and the people.””

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court against the Justice Department and the new Department of Homeland Security, seeks enforcement of the federal Freedom of Information Act, which compels government officials to disclose certain records to the public.

The ACLU of Illinois has made repeated administrative requests — without success — for data collected under a 1999 Presidential Order issued by then-President Bill Clinton. The order mandates that federal law enforcement agencies collect data about race, ethnicity and gender for all civilians with whom the agencies have an interaction.

The reluctance of the Bush Administration to release this data undermines the public announcement of anti-racial profiling guidelines in late June by the Department of Justice, the ACLU said. At that time, the DOJ promised that their steps were designed to end any racial profiling by federal officials.

Today’s lawsuit tests whether those promises were simple rhetoric or a real commitment for which the DOJ is willing to be accountable to the public, Grossman said. The data collected by federal law enforcement agencies would be a crucial tool in determining how these agencies conduct their work and checking for any indications of discriminatory law enforcement activity.

The ACLU of Illinois’ complaint seeks information about any official policies adopted regarding the collection of data ordered by the President, any training materials related to how officers should collect such information, the compilation of data already collected by the agencies and any analyses of the data. The lawsuit specifically seeks the data from the Justice Department about the operations of the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and from the newly created Department of Homeland Security about the operations of the Customs Service.

Data collection is considered by most law enforcement experts to be a critical tool in addressing the insidious problem of racial profiling. By mandating that each law enforcement officer in the field collect and record this data about the individuals they target for stops, searches and surveillance, supervisory personnel can efficiently ascertain if individual officers are targeting particular ethnic minority groups for an increased number of stops or searches. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich recently signed legislation mandating that Illinois law officials collect such data.

“”We made our requests to the government under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act and waited patiently for an appropriate response,”” Grossman said. “”The agencies have shown a callous disregard for the importance of providing this information to the public, leaving us no other option than pursuing the matter in federal court.””

Cooperating Counsel Daniel M. Feeney of the Chicago firm Miller Shakman & Hamilton is assisting the ACLU of Illinois in this litigation.

The ACLU complaint is online at

For more information on the ACLU’s work to end racial profiling, go to /racialjustice/racialprofiling

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