ACLU of Northern CA and Community Groups Urge Fresno Police to Protect Against Federal Privacy Abuses

February 20, 2003 12:00 am

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FRESNO, CA — In an open letter sent today to the Fresno Police Department, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and a coalition of community and civil rights groups called on officials not to join a federal terrorism task force without first assuring citizens that their state constitutional right to privacy will be protected.

The letter was sent in response to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s recent unilateral decision to roll back long-standing FBI guidelines that were put in place as a result of the gross intelligence abuses of the 1960s. Under the current guidelines the FBI can now send agents to public religious services, political rallies and organizing meetings.

“The FBI’s consistent targeting of Arab Americans, South Asian Americans and Muslims living in the United States highlights our concerns,” said Serge Haitayan, President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “Now the FBI is surveying the number of Mosques in each region to set investigative goals. This is clearly a violation of the California constitutional right to privacy.”

The Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) is the brainchild of Attorney General John Ashcroft and is comprised of the FBI and other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The ACLU and others fear that recently relaxed federal guidelines that govern domestic surveillance could lead to privacy abuses by such a task force.

Over 30 years ago, the ACLU said, California voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment incorporating an explicit and strong right to privacy into the state constitution, specifically to stop “proliferation of government snooping that is threatening to destroy our traditional freedoms.”

“California has drawn a line with respect to privacy, political and associational rights that government must not cross even with the best intentions,” said Mark Schlosberg, Police Practices Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California. “Some of the intelligence practices now openly encouraged by the new federal guidelines cross this long-standing state line.”

Because of these concerns, the groups are requesting under the California Public Records Act copies of all agreements or memoranda regarding the forthcoming participation of Fresno officers on the JTTF. In addition, they are requesting copies of any and all Fresno Police Department general orders, informational bulletins, training bulletins, or any other statements of policy prohibiting monitoring or surveillance of individuals or organizations participating in First Amendment-related activity in the absence of reasonable suspicion. First Amendment-related activities include political meetings, political rallies, and religious services.

The groups are also requesting that the police department take the following steps to ensure the privacy rights of Fresno residents:

  1. Ensure that provisions exist in any memorandum of understanding with the FBI that individuals working on the JTTF must abide by California’s constitutional right to privacy. Monitoring and spying on religious and political meetings and rallies in the absence of reasonable suspicion of a crime are not permissible activities.
  2. Ensure that provisions exist in any memorandum of understanding with the FBI that individuals working on the JTTF must not participate in racial or ethnic profiling. Police Officers Standards Training (“POST”) recently issued training to all law enforcement in California indicating that officers may not use race in carrying out their discretionary law enforcement actions in the absence of a specific suspect description. Any memorandum of understanding with the FBI should reflect this policy.
  3. Issue a bulletin to all FPD officers instructing them as to their obligations under the California constitution. State law defines what conduct is permissible in Fresno and throughout California. Given the changes in the federal guidelines, issuing a clear directive would help avoid confusion and prevent FPD officers from violating the state constitution.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee/Fresno Chapter, Muslim Political Action Committee, Comite No Nos Vamos, ACLU of Northern California, Peace Fresno, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Fresno Center for Non-Violence are among the groups that signed the letter.

To letter Police Chief Dyer is online at

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